Solidarity with Unison strikers in Tower Hamlets

Following an arduous period of contract negotiations between Unison and Tower Hamlets Council, workers will now be taking industrial action on the 3rd, 6th and 7th July with a view for further dates in the future. The council has been determined to sack 4000 employees and re-engage them with severe contractual changes, which the union had hoped to avoid through a review process by ACAS however the council has decided to proceed regardless. Prior to the lockdown announcement workers had planned to strike however circumstances prevented this from occurring.

This comes at a time where austerity has ripped apart local budgets and services across the UK, and where council workers have been at the frontline during a global pandemic. Solidarity and resistance are going to be key going forward in many fronts – Social Work Action Network sends its solidarity to the strikers to beat back the Labour council pushing through this vicious attack of sack-and-reemploy against those for whom many in the streets clapped for during Covid-19.

Let’s be clear, this is a disgusting move to force people to engage with a contractual change that allows the Labour council to reduce expenditure as they prepare for tightening budgets and manoeuvres to cut out the unions. Any cut has an impact not only on workers but the communities too – this is a distinctive period where social workers have to come to the fore and fight for a justice economically and politically.

Following the wave of Black Lives Matter protests across the world and the disproportionate deaths of BAME communities, this move by the council will impact BAME workers heavily and only reinforces institutional racism in society. Unison had requested the impact this move would have on BAME and women staff and have found the subsequent Equality Impact Assessment to be misleading as the changes in contract do not deliver this.

UNISON Black Members Coordinator, Mick Smith : ‘ The Council’s behaviour in relation to the EQIA (Equality Impact Assessment) is very troubling and  smacks of wilful concealment.  Recently the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement (BLM) has thrown a spotlight on how damaging  structural racism and inequality is on the life opportunities of certain communities. While the Chief Executive, Will Tuckley, and Mayor John Biggs have appeared eager to publically align themselves with BLM by putting out statements and having photos taken at statue removals; they have steadfastly refused to ensure that necessary independent scrutiny of the impact of Tower Rewards on BAME and women staff can be completed. Anyone who wants an example of how structural racism and inequality operates in practice need look no further than this.’

There will be socially distanced picket lines at the council sites that will remain open during the strike and online rallies hosted by Unison. You can send your messages of solidarity via

STATEMENT: Black Lives Matter

“It is our duty to fight for our freedom

It is our duty to win

We must love and protect each other

We have nothing to lose but our chains”

Assata Shakur

The Social Work Action Network International (SWAN-I), a coalition of social work organizations and activists across the globe, stands in solidarity with our social work colleagues in the United States and with protesters all over the globe who are fighting against institutional racism and police brutality and for a better world.

As a value-based profession, we are horrified at the events over the last two weeks; from the execution of George Floyd, an unarmed black man by Minneapolis police officers, to the brutal murder of Ahmaud Arbery by racists in Georgia.  Yet these tragedies were completely predictable.  They are the inevitable consequences of institutional racism whose roots go back to founding of the United States. 

Institutional racism is responsible for Breonna Taylors’ murder in her own home by Louisville police and for a black man being reported to the cops for daring to challenge a white woman while birdwatching in Central Park New York.  Our system of racial capitalism causes African Americans, Latinx, and Native Americans to die of Covid–19 at much higher rates than whites, experience greater levels of poverty, and increased risk of housing evictions. 

These systems of oppression are worldwide; from Brazil, to Chile, to Palestine. Yet worldwide, racial capitalism, settler colonialism, and imperialism are being unmasked by a new global movement which is standing in solidarity with the victims of institutional racism and insisting that Black Lives Matter. Frederick Douglass an African American Abolitionist, said “Power concedes nothing without a demand.  It never has and it never will.”   We demand justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery and all the other victims of police violence. 

 SWAN-I supports all individuals and communities calling for an end to systemic racism. We support efforts around the world that are working to promote alternative systems that takes care of our multiracial communities and planet. We believe that while there is no single model for radical social work, social work must be an unashamedly political project.  Most private troubles have political and social causes arising from the neoliberal model of capitalism and racism, individualism, sexism and homophobia that it produces. This is true whether they are experienced individually through depression or anxiety, or collectively through police violence and substandard housing.  For this reason, social work must be part of the multiracial movement for social transformation and human liberation.  Another world is possible, another social work is possible!

To join SWAN-I, contact us at

WATCH: Human Right Live Stream

As part of our series of live streams based on covid-19 crisis and the impact on social work practice, we focused on human rights and how during this periods these have been reduced.

We were happy to have Derek Boothy (MCA/DOLS Regional Chair Yorkshire and North Humber) Professor Luke Clements (Leeds University) & Carolyne Willow (Article 39).

We would like to thank every one who continues to participate in our meetings and we will continue to host some vital meetings that look at fighting for social justice.

Join Sharing Practitioners’ Experiences Online Forum

We will be hosting an online forum for social workers across the UK to discuss what is happening to social work right now during the Covid-19 crisis but also what has to change. The crisis has highlighted problems in an already stretched system that has thrown an underlying anger into a howl of rage, as social workers we need to connected to fight for a better social work and society.

You can register online via Eventbrite here. Prior to the meeting you will be sent an email with details to participate.

This will be a private meeting where you will be able to share your experience and fight back so join us and let us build the resistance to the crisis.

WATCH: SWAN & IFSW Episode 4

The fourth installment of our webinar series with International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW). We were privileged to be joined by Robert and Janestic to discuss the response and demands on social workers in Uganda and Brazil, detailing the root causes of the pandemic and the issues preexisting Covid-19. Rory Truell, secretary-general of IFSW and Iain Ferguson discussed the implications for social work internationally and the need for global campaigns and resistance not just to Covid-19 but also to neoliberal managerialism and capitalism.

We will continue to work with IFSW on webinars that tackle social work issues, more news to follow!

WATCH: Practice-focussed live stream

We were joined by Ruth Allen, British Association of Social Work, Mark Harrison, Reclaiming Our Future Alliance and Bea Kay, Social Work Action Network to discuss the specific issues relative to social work practice during this period of crisis.

Social Work Action Network is committed to radical practice and changing the profession from bottom up, as such, we will be hosting an online meeting on 7th May 2020 for workers to share experiences of their workplace and practice. You can now buy tickets for this online meeting via Eventbrite.

Watch: Episode 2 of International Perspectives

Enjoy the second in a series of international meetings with the International Federation of Social Workers in relation to social work responses to Covid-19.

We were joined with Kerry Cuskelly from Ireland, Jennifer Thompson from New Jersey, Sug Pyo Kim in South Korea, Nicos Trimikliniotis in Cyprus, Fatima Uygun from Glasgow and Ruben Masia in Spain and discussed what practice can we do during this period.

The video has had 5,000 view so far on Facebook and we would like to thank everyone who join, contributed and asked question. Our next international meeting will be on the Thursday 30th April, which will be streamed live again on Facebook and uploaded here to rewatch and share. We aim to bring a wide range of speakers from around the world who can both tackle the day-to-day practice but also the ideological and political terrains in front of us, so we are pleased to announce that our first two confirmed speakers are Rory Truell, International Director of International Federation of Social Workers and Iain Ferguson, co-founder of Social Work Action Network and author.

But we don’t stop there! Recognising that this pandemic is a international concern, we also have to look at direct action and practice within the UK. Next Thursday at 6pm we will be hosting a meeting with Unison, British Association of Social Work and Reclaim Our Future Alliance.

Stay tuned!

CANCELLED: Social Work Action Network Annual Conference

As many would have expected we have decided to cancel this year Social Work Action Network Conference due to the ongoing Covid-19 crisis. We will continue to organise online meeting such as out Social Work and Covid-19: International Perspectives, which was live streamed on Facebook and can view here

Not only was the video watch live by viewers from all over the world but views continue to grow. You can read the International Federation of Social Workers report here

Over the coming weeks we will be developing more online meetings that will be streamed from our Facebook page (Social Work Action Network – SWAN) along with International Federation of Social Workers and other organisations, bringing together frontline workers, academics, service users and students to discuss how social work continues following this crisis. We will also be posting more videos covering a range a topics that will be posted directly onto our website and social media sites.

SO! Stay tuned and stay safe!

Watch: International Perspectives

We brought together social work activists from around the world to the discuss social work and the Covid-19 crisis through an international lens.

This is just the start of a series of live streams and videos we will be publishing, we hope to pull together the collective knowledge of social workers around the world in these discussions to find forge a path to a new social work and society.

LIVE! Social Work and The Covid-19 Crisis!

Today we will be live streaming our event Social Work and the Covid-19 Crisis: International Perspectives live on Social Work Action Network – SWAN Facebook page at 5pm UK time (event page link below).

We will be joined by several speakers from around the globe to discuss the social work and government responses within each individual country but also the challenges that social workers face in dealing with this crisis.

This is a meeting not to be missed and will begin a series of online events hosted by Social Work Action Network over the coming year.

Facebook Event Page

Social Work Action Network Facebook Page

Interview: Psyche Publication

Lucy Grainge and Juliette Duffy are setting out to create a new type of magazine…one based on engaging with the therapeutic and transformative nature of storytelling, centred on mental health and politics. The latest issue is titled CONFRONTATIONS. We interviewed Juliette to discuss what role art and storytelling can have in empowering people.

What made you start Psyche?

We started Psyche as a collaborative project in our final year studying Communication Design at the Glasgow School of Art. I had been working on zines exploring philosophy, psychology, politics and themes relating to the human condition. Lucy was focusing on illustration and word play, exploring cognitive learning processes with a particular interest in Dyslexia and different learning styles from linear/non linear to visual and numerical. We were both keen to take on larger editorial projects and felt there was a cross over in subject matter and interests – it seemed obvious that if we teamed up we could make a publication that was more sophisticated than any zine we could make independently.

Mental health/ill-health among students has become such an urgent issue, do you think having more student and issue-based publications can challenge the structures at universities and colleges?

I think more platforms and voices are always a positive presence on campuses. From our experience there wasn’t much in terms of publishing within GSA, from the student population or the institution. There was more of a focus on illustration or photography, and we felt the lack of written publications didn’t reflect the amount of students who used writing as part of their practice. So we created a space that gave students a chance to submit creative and academic writing to discuss issues impacting their lives and student experience. What came of this tended to be personal experiences, often relating to mental health, and ultimately inner worlds.

I think student based publications can be an effective way to galvanise, communicate and capture the feelings of a student population at a point in time. I suppose printed matter is in a sense more permanent than certain types of protest. Schools/universities are feeling more like businesses, which should not be the case, and has a huge knock on effect. As a class we spent much of our last year trying to gain better workshop access and affordable printing facilities at GSA. There are multiple ways of challenging university structures, but yes, we believe student-led publications are one way of doing this.

It is so important to have writing in circulation that has an opinion and takes a stance, has something to stand for. Not just the safe functional institutional information dissemination – which are often beautiful and fit for their purpose, but that wasn’t where our interests lay. We wanted to make something that had no set discourse, but rather it would be driven by the thoughts that were the most pressing to our contributors.

Art is such a great communicator of oppression and struggle, what do you think can help bring more voices in the creative industry and do you think women’s oppression is being addressed?

It’s interesting that you’ve focused on the female run aspect. As we did have this conversation early on. We never wanted Psyche to come across as a women’s magazine or a purely feminist publication. (Fem Soc existed in GSA at this time – their zine was more imagery and some poetry), as we didn’t want anyone to be discouraged or feel excluded. We wanted people of all lived experiences, of all identities to feel they could engage with our project. As this was the only way that we can get an honest picture of the issues impacting our peers.

I think, sometimes, when these spaces are created as ‘queer’, ‘feminist’, ‘socialist’ – although we absolutely are all of these things – it can be off putting to those who are just curious or don’t necessarily identify with the given labels for the context yet/or who choose not to. So we wanted to avoid labels and to focus on individual inner worlds and lived experience which ultimately would lead people to discuss class, gender, race but that didn’t demand it of people, or to demand that a contributor had to be well read or educated on these matters. We wanted it to be a space for people to be honest and to learn from each other through storytelling.We wanted people to talk about their inner worlds and the outer world that shaped it, or in other words the socio-political conditions that shape the experience of every individual. We did not want to hold people to standards that were too high, and avoid the judgemental mentally of cancel culture which is all too prevalent in the creative industries at present.

And the other side of this was the fact that Lucy and myself (Juliette) were just learning through doing – we were not claiming to be an academic authority on any of the the subject matter but we were interested and curious and wanted to open up the conversation about things we knew were important.

As for our experience as women in the creative industry, evidently it is still male dominated, particularly graphic design, yet art schools have always had a larger female student population. Which makes you wonder where all these art school educated women disappear to after graduation. All too often women in the creative industry aren’t taken seriously, revealing an insidious misogyny that is still alive and well in areas of the industry. However, there has always been and continues to be women challenging this bias, from the all girl collectives focusing on women in art, design and the music industry, and initiatives such as the famous Gorilla Girls, to the hey52GIRLS and Girls Rock Glasgow. Women in the industry tend to take matters into their own hands, we have so many friends and peers starting exciting projects and platforms to create supportive environments or act as inspiration for female creatives, such as Ladies Wine and Design, VAJ power, & magazine, Colab Collective, and illustrators such as Laura Callaghan and Nanni-Paa who explore what being a woman today means.

Lucy Grainge and Juliette Duffy

Your latest issue of Psyche was based on ‘confrontations’, what was the basis to this?

Honestly, with all the Brexit debates, tumultuous political landscapes with UKIP, the DUP, Anti-immigration sentiments radiating from the media, Lucy and I felt a tone of hostility across our outer social political landscape. We wanted to take the obvious political world idea of conflict and confrontations and stretch this to be interpreted as broadly as people desired. So instead of just conflict and confrontations in terms of verbal debate, antagonism and violence – it could be explored in terms of confronting personal beliefs, or confrontation in relationships, as well as physical confrontations or opposing societal expectations.

We felt that after our pilot issue, that had no specific theme, it would be good to confront ideas that could be divisive in our second issue.

You have tried to bring together a vast range of contributors, including social workers. What do you think social work can learn from art/artists?

My perception of social work – having a few as close friends and family members – I understand that the relationship you can build with clients is the most important aspect of making a positive change in their lives. Hence why the job is often emotionally exhausting and even traumatising. Often when communication breaks down, or if it is hard to establish, creative outlets can offer a way for people to express themselves, particularly vulnerable individuals. I think protecting creative activities, whether visual art or music or writing, as well as the performance arts is so so imperative for well-being.

The societal structure of the state that determines our means of education operates on such a linear formula that excludes so many learning styles and therefore fails many individuals. I think it is criminally counterintuitive to impose harsh cuts on creative education/industry funding.

Neville Brody articulates this very well regarding how misguided the attitude towards the value of creative education – I also feel this is applicable to social care.

‘It’s neanderthal. This current government are studying Victorian models and they believe in the mechanisation of society, which means that everyone has a place and a cog… and this is the way they keep the status quo. It’s about funneling funds from the poorer to the richest. They don’t want to educate a freewheeling proletariat. You have to keep the factory running.’[1]

It is incredibly short sighted to leave art out of education and social care.

I think given the categorical need for human connection in social work, art should be a go-to in terms of fostering communication and expression. Art exists once all of our basic needs have been met, hence why it is a product of our higher selves and can be a transformative and healing force.

I really enjoyed seeing a serious magazine finished in a really creative way that didn’t lose the content, do you think professionalism can hinder the artistic process? 

Perhaps, in the sense that a magazine is such a familiar format that there’s already such defined expectations on what a magazine should look like. Very early on we realised we could not or did not feel comfortable illustrating other people’s experiences, so we decided that our illustrations throughout, would be our reaction to the theme. This instantly creates a different feel to the usual format of a magazine, where there will be a number of different illustrators and visual styles throughout.

Creating Psyche independently also means we don’t have any set rules for it and are often questioning how it could evolve and change. Coming from an illustration and graphic design background the design and aesthetic is very important to us and a great source of fun.

What other projects have influenced Psyche?

Lucy and I are big fans of all things printed matter. Many current mags and independent books have influenced us both visually and conceptually. We would like to give a notable mention to a few mental health mags we really admire – Anxy, Ladybeard and NOUS. All of which explore the intersections of the mind, culture and society in unique, insightful and beautifully designed ways.

Social Work is in a crisis at the moment due to austerity and cuts to services, creative spending has seen a reduction also. What does the future hold for sustainable arts projects?

The future is uncertain as funding cuts can put crippling pressure on great initiatives, social enterprises and small independent projects. Lucy earns a portion of her living working in community based initiatives such as Impact Arts, a community arts organisation which uses the arts and creativity to enable and empower social change. She recently had to leave the project she was on as the funding was not there this year for her role. So these organisation’s are forced to downsize, meaning staff lose their jobs and fewer members of the community can reap the benefits of the service. Though on a positive note – Impact Arts have recently secured funding for many more great projects they run.

Lucy works across projects with young people and most recently with the Craft Café in Govan, which is a community group for over 65’s who meet to do a range of arts and crafts. The Craft Cafe offers support to members of the elderly community, who may be suffering from alienation and loneliness and has become a much loved social hub. These projects also create spaces where people come together, who then go onto create more community initiatives and share further events happening in the local area. At the launch of our issue 2, we had Annie from the Craft Café speak about loneliness in older people. Annie spoke of the Craft Café saving her life after a period of instability. Through the support of the tutors at the Craft Café she has gone on to hold talks at Kinning Park Complex and the Scottish Socialist Party about Climate Change. She also started the Befriending Food Service, where Annie and her partner Sonny, visit isolated older people – some of whom haven’t left their homes in months – to cook for them, and have hosted multiple community group meals.

As for small independent projects like Psyche, funding comes in many forms. We have relied heavily on crowd funding through Kickstarter, some funding from non-profits that support eco friendly and sustainable projects, and support through advertising in the magazine as well as sponsorship and discounted costs for things like paper through GF Smith. Our printing costs were also discounted as part of the Creative Scotland under 25’s funding of Out of the Blue Print.

It would not have been possible without crowd funding though, which not only raised funds for printing, it raised our profile and outreach. We hope as each issue goes on we will become more financially independent but for now we could not do what we do without the generosity of organisations and individuals. In short we haven’t cracked a sustainable model yet, but finding help from multiple sources and letting the financial challenges test our creativity is the way we persevere.

There has been massive movement around Extinction Rebellion, which has seen people paint messages on public spaces. Does public protest art need to resurface?

Yes, I am all for politicised public spaces, there’s an energy that builds momentum in struggle when we engage in public spaces. Public spaces are so commercial and watered down. I am keen to see authenticity and a public voice that reflects the lives of the individuals making the art. So yes, I want to see more public protest art. It’s all about communication and expression ultimately – which is why we wanted to make a platform for these sorts of things. There isn’t much difference between publishing papers or painting on walls in terms of the dissemination of an idea.

What’s the future for Psyche?

We’re still very much in the slower period after the second issue, taking some time off to reflect and enjoy the summer. We worked on issue 2 alongside our full time work, for around a year and half. It was pretty full on for both of us. Moving forward, it is essential for us to find a way to make Psyche sustainable in every sense – financially, time wise and even emotionally, as burn out has been a reality for us both.

We’ve had a great response from the second issue so far with lots of messages of support, encouragement and people telling us they have connected to Psyche in a way which makes it all worth it. With creating a magazine, there is always something to do and now we need to try and get it out there in stockists etc. Our second issue sold out in Printed Matter, New York, and they are already wanting to restock and take it to NY Art book Fair. With the power of instagram we have realised the scope of how far away you can reach an audience, we have been posting Psyches all over the world which is so exciting and only proves the universality of the themes within. It’s great to see how something that started as a Glasgow student zine can have an impact on an Australian, American or a Portuguese audience.

Next we will be thinking about the theme of issue three. We’d love to host more events and bring the platform into a physical space more often. Just now I am based in London and Lucy in Glasgow, this brings challenges and opens up new opportunities to have two cities as a base. So we will have to see what happens!