Although i much prefer to begin at the beginning,when i can find it,this does not.It starts at the opening of the second day of a 2 day conference,the 8th national and annual conference of SWAN,the social work action network held on 12-13th April at London South Bank University.
Opening only a few minutes late,due to the time it took to register over 500 delegates which make it the biggest social work related conference in both Britain and Europe,the Saturday session began a little slowly with an early morning national steering committee meeting,followed by the misleadingly low key Annual General Meeting.Amongst other things that outlined the role and activity of the steering committee,and addressed half a dozen or so resolutions across a range of issues,including amongst other things a debate about definitions of (radical)social work,relations with other social work bodies and institutions,the”dilution”and devalueing of social work,and not least the decision to create a solidarity fund,for those who find themselves excluded from social work by austerity and cuts and now finding themselves,already rendered destitute.SWAN,demonstrated that it is clearly NOT an organisation hampered by bureaucracy by then asking Ben,one of the London group/conference organising committee to collect from those at the conference immediately.
Following the AGM,the 3rd plenary of the conference began in which 3 sets of speakers outlined with a passion,the campaigns they are involved in.This included Trza,and activist from the Barnet Alliance…outlining the battle against both massive privatisation and austerity and cuts in the London Borough of Barnet.This was followed by my own friends and comrades,Izzie Sanchez and Sarah Counihan-Sanchez who spoke both of their plight as a family as both victims of”institutional abuse”by the local authority and the policy of cuts/austerity which this Labour led local authority in implementing on behalf of the Con-Dem regime.When Izzie referred to the council’s decision that the family were both intentionally homeless but also owed £76,000 there was a very audible and shocked intake of breath from the now packed lecture theatre of well over 300 delegates.There was a second shocked intake of breath when Sarah began her concluding remarks with the simple,but powerful words,”I am only 15…..” Simon Cardy,a well-known activist from West Midlands SWAN found himself with a hard act to follow with 2 accounts of battles in Solihull and over hypocritical G4S sponsorship of the “social worker of the year award”,which has now been ended…….
As the box for the Solidarity Fund made it way around conference floor,I noticed that one of the early contributors to it was Izzie Sanchez,as she always gives of her resources and care for others.During the discussion that followed,a delegate from Scotland,probably Iain Ferguson,a co-founding member of SWAN,proposed that whatever was collected for the Solidarity Fund at Conference on the day should be divided immediately with half going to social workers in immediate need and the other half being divided between the Barnet Alliance and the Counihan-Sanchez Family Housing Campaign.
This has tremendous significance at a number of levels.Having recognised the need to act,SWAN and its conference acted immediately to raise funds to assist not only its own members,and wider constituency but campaigns beyond,rooted in and struggling in the community-campaigns which both reflect the distress caused by cuts and austerity,but also are combative in their response to it.On this occasion the campaigns are London based but the resonances,the shock waves are clearly felt well beyond our locality as indicated by the open hearted and direct expression of solidarity proposed by comrades from Scotland and echoed throughout a conference which drew in activists nationally and indeed internationally.Loudest and deepest of all,this is not just the conference of a grassroots organisation with a long reach and deep roots-a big and significant organisation,but yet another demonstration that it has a big,loving,beating heart,and that compassion is at its core alongside placing humane values at the absolute centre of what we do,as anti-capitalist,feminist,libertarian,radical,socialist activists.
None of us may have a lot of money but all of us are prepared to make real acts of solidarity to support each other.This is not an investment aimed at making a profit,but represents very real acts of love and solidarity for and to each other.
Fast forward several hours,past lunch,regional meetings,a contingent of conference delegates leaving to support and anti-bedroom tax demonstration by South Benefits Justice on the nearby Walworth Road,regional meetings,the next workshop session-more of which later.
We reach the final plenary,which was always intended to raise people’s spirits,and send us/them away determined to take what we have learned back into combat in our own localities.Such inspiring messages deserve focus and attention so i will highlight this session later.Further messages came in during that session.The london SWAN convenor passed me a bundle of notes during the session for the Counihan-Sanchez Family Housing Campaign.Pre-occupied with the session,i pocketed it and did not count it until later.A little while later he announced from the platform that Roger Lewis,a leading DPAC/disabled people against the cuts campaigner had messaged the conference that DPAC and UK Uncut had occupied IDS(minister responsible for this attack on the poor/disabled/working class)residence and served notice of eviction!He also announced that the solidarity fund had raised something over £570!That includes £135 donated to CSFHC.
Conference came to an inspiring end.Delegates said their goodbyes and began to make their ways home.Some of us were left to tidy up and tie up loose ends.Many of us were exhausted but inspired.
I will return to write more on what has been a momentous event.Meantime,i want to record the gratitude to and solidarity with SWAN of the CSFHC.From our opening contact with SWAN,particularly in London,we have been impressed and sometimes overwhelmed by the amazing level of willing and enthusiastic support for and of our campaign.SWAN comrades both individually and collectively have delivered every step of the way,in detail every time their support has been sought and every time they have been invited to anything.It has always felt to me that suh suport is given not out of political duty or responsibility,which would be good in itself but from a genuine and deep affection and warmth.This relationship means that the notion of solidarity is far more than a lengthy,pleasant word of the left.It has real contect which all members of CSFHC apreciate and reciprocate.This is part of the dynamic of our relationship with a number of other organisations and campaigns and individuals.Love and affection,and the celebration of our common humanity as well as our endeavour are crucial and central.I consider myself a lucky man to be a”little soldier”in both CSFHC and SWAN.They can take our lives,they can take us into desperate destitution but they cannot ever take these experiences or these relationships away from either me or I believe us.This i believe gives real meaning and content to the idea that we are social beings.Our strength,power and meaning is that we are,and we are confirmed by and in our relationships with each other.We are indeed each other.I count myself a”lucky man”indeed