Class Work Project: Finance Redistribution Project during Covid-19

dollar bills

Republished from The Classworks Project

Throughout the Covid-19 crisis the Class Work Project has been running a redistribution fund, during which we have redistributed over £380,000. This fund was established in the first few days following the government’s announcement of a national “lockdown”. Within a week our members had received over one hundred messages via emails, social media and whatsapp from individuals who knew they were going to immediately struggle financially, and were hoping that our organisation would have ideas, suggestions and contacts which might help in the short, medium and long term. The majority of these emails and messages came from people who CWP members had organised with in neighbourhoods over the last decade, others came from those who had come across the work we have been doing over the last couple of years via our education and publishing practice. Before we had the opportunity to think through the best way to respond to these emails and messages we were receiving emails from others who had come into contact with our work, asking whether we would be able to accept significant amounts of cash and get it into the hands of those who might need it.

Over the next few months more requests came in, as did the donations. The requests came in for amounts ranging from £50 to £15,000, each request was taken at face value and we attempted to fulfill it. Whilst we weren’t always able to cover 100% of each request, we never offered less than 75%, it was entirely dependent on what money we had at the time, and what other requests had come in during that week. Donations ranged similarly, with some people setting up direct debits of £10 a week or month, and others dropping £10k into the account. We didn’t set up a gofundme or make any public plea for cash. Our monthly newsletter let folk know the process that was being carried out, and there’s no doubt that some individuals got in contact with requests and donations due to that. When large requests came in and we were unable to fulfill them, we contacted a small number of folks who had regularly donated in the past, asking if they were able to support us in getting enough to cover a request, but fortunately we were forced to do this very rarely. Often we replied to a request letting the person know we’d be able to fulfill the donation, but never heard back from them, and on other occasions we received a reply letting us know that they had managed to source the money from elsewhere, and wouldn’t want to receive money that could go to someone else in a difficult situation.

The requests from individuals we had prior relationships with from organising work came from a variety of demographics within the working class. There were those who had been supporting their families via informal economies both legal and illegal, and had found themselves out of work and with no other provision available to them. Others had lost their employment due to the “lockdown” and their former employers were refusing to engage with the furloughing process. Some needed one off payments in order to meet bills, debt and other direct debit payments were made; the fear of missing payments and fines being accrued was clearly intense, regardless of the statements made by state and capital that during lockdown this would not be the case. Far too often, but unsurprisingly folks needed weekly food paying for and top ups on their electricity or gas cards. As the “lockdown” rolled on, we began to receive requests for sums between £40 and £300 for Covid-19 fines, the vast majority of these were from young men between 14-25 who lived in urban areas where some of our members had been involved in various community based projects.

As stated at the top, in the end over £380,000 was redistributed from those involved in social movements and the broad left to those in the poor and working class communities we are from. Over 200 households received some of this money, and around 40 donated both small and large amounts. As of August 1st we have decided to stop accepting donations, and by mid-August all the money that has been donated will have been redistributed. Whilst we’re confident that of the project’s political validity, we want to take some time to think through how we’ve carried it out, where we’ve gone wrong and how we might be able to work a similar practice in the future.

We have been discussing questions of redistribution within our collective and at our workshops since we began in 2018. Our members come from poor and working class backgrounds, and have, over the last couple of decades been working and organising in radical left contexts alongside individuals from very different economic experiences. This experience has highlighted to us the ways in which economic capital increases the capacity for entry, and participation in many of these radical left contexts and the social movements they are connected to. Working and organising alongside those who have “savings” accounts and inheritance which dwarfs the entire cost of our families and friends’ life “earnings”, has always been gross. Particularly as we have spent decades watching those closest to us die due to poverty, and those that profess to be working for social justice and revolution sit on sums of money that could have saved our loved ones lives.

To be clear the process of redistributing money within the left is not a replacement for seizing the means of production and an entire dismantling of the current economic and political system. For any participant in socialist, communist and anarchist struggle this must remain the long term goal. However social movements are populated by those with a broad range of economic experiences and access to resources, and pretending that these unequal power relations do not exist, or that we can do nothing about them is politically dishonest.

Poor and working class communities have long history of sharing what little they have with one another, in particular, multiply-marginalised communities, doing so in the full knowledge that those with greater access to economic resources, driven by a combination of fear of precarity and liberal individualism, will hoard what they have. In previous blog posts we’ve discussed some of the issues that are present when engaging with financial redistribution. The ways in which the both giving and receiving of money is affected by shame and self-worth, in no small part due to the ways in which capitalism frames self-reliance, hard work and personal responsibility. The redistribution fund that we’ve been running over the last 4 months was able to navigate some of these issues due to the fact that people came to us. The majority of those had pre-existing relationships with us, and therefore an understanding of where we were coming from. There was trust that we would maintain the anonymity of those both giving and receiving, and that those receiving would not be interrogated or expected to offer evidence of their circumstances. In short, we would not be making judgements regarding their worth and deservingness of support.

It’s important to note that we are by far the only group doing this work, during Covid-19 crisis hardship funds were established by and for a variety of marginalised and politically oppressed groups. Similarly, we’ve been in contact with a number of new localised Mutual Aid groups who were developing ways in which financial redistribution could become part of their practice. Prior to Covid-19, the UK Mutual Aid F-book group has been organised around facilitating the redistribution of financial and material resources to individuals as and when they need them. This group has worked tirelessly to create an online space where requests can be made with safety and without demands that the request and the individual making it justify themselves.

We have critiques of how we carried out the redistribution project. Ideally we’d have been accountable for our decisions to more than just ourselves, relying on networks of similarly minded people and communities. We’d have generated the resources and an internal structure prior to the event, as it was we were fortunate when it came to resources coming in. The variety of ways people made contact with us, meant that sometimes individuals who were in crisis went days without response as we didn’t check each organisational and personal email, nor old phones and social media accounts on a daily basis. The amount of time and energy the project took means that there are serious questions for us to ask about the sustainability of the practice. It’s also possible that we rushed into making several large payments too early, payments which we may have been paid a month or two down the line were often paid within days of receiving the request. This meant that when smaller amounts were needed in emergency situations they had to wait whilst we sourced the finances. The centralisation of the process was problematic, this type of redistribution project should ideally occur on a local level. Whilst our process was localised, with nearly 75% of requests coming from Nottingham and Liverpool – where our members have lived, worked and built relationships- none of us live in those cities presently. Perhaps the internet offers anonymity and therefore the security to make the request, but the goal must be to shift the individual problem into a social one, and this we would argue can most effectively be done on a localised level.

Over the next few months we’ll be making a concerted effort to think about developing a better strategy to carry out some form of financial redistribution, it may or may not be similar to the one we embarked on at the end of March, but it will be directed by many of the same values. That those of us involved in social justice and revolutionary movements must act with collective hearts in the here and now, not merely wait for the glorious day in the future when capitalism crumbles. That we must challenge the dominant ideology regarding individual worth and the financial resources to live safely, both individually and collectively. And that we must leave no one behind.