Last Saturday over 50 people gatherd in Broadmead for an anti-Workfare demonstration called by ourselves and Bristol Solidarity Federation. Aswell as friends from Bath Anarchists (BARF), the IWW and the Socalist Party there were plenty of new faces we hadn’t seen on previous demos.
Before we had even set off our spirits were lifted by the news that Superdrug had already pulled out of workfare just before the demonstrations set to take place across the country, Result! The first stop on our tour of companies using forced labor under the workfare scheme was Dorothy Perkins in Cabot Circus. Its always good to reclaim spaces like Cabot that are technically no longer public but in the hands of private owners. The security were powerless to stop us due to our weight of numbers, and ability to resist their clever mind tricks such as saying ‘don’t you want to go that way instead?‘.
We continued our rolling picket stopping outside of poundland. As the manager rushed out to confront the demonstration and attempt to move us on, three demonstrators already waiting inside unfurled a banner behind him and began leafleting poundland staff and customers. At this point a poundland employee slashed the banner with a knife, as a demonstrator attempted to film the incident the employee stole his camera and ran away with it.
The police arrived shortly after (summoned by Poundland management) and returned the camera, before advising the demonstrators to leave Poundland before they had to use ‘reasonable force’ to get them to do so.
After checking everyone was ok, we moved onwards to Debenhams, and then gathered quite a large group of onlookers in the pedestrianised area outside of McDonalds. We then marched into the Galleries, mostly because it was bloody freezing and we wanted to protest indoors for a bit! Again security ineffectually attempted to block our entrance into this privately owned space. We hit several more targets, including a branch of Greggs, a situation that a competitor of Greggs found so amusing that they decided to bestow a free pack of donuts upon us! Does this count as corporate sponsorship? answers on a post card.
The demonstration stopped outside the post office in solidarity with those the royal mail has on its workfare schemes, and the workers at the few remaining royal mail owned post offices who will soon be on strike. The final stop was a ‘grand finale’ occupying the main reception area of the Marriot hotel. Chants were shouted from the megaphone as we questioned a manager who apparently ‘didnt know’ if his branch of Marriot had any unpaid staff on the workfare scheme. People decided to end the occupation as there was a wedding reception taking place upstairs, but if Marriot continue with their use of workfare we may not be so gracious next time!
As for people we spoke to on the day, free donuts and knife attacks sums up the range of views that were thrown at us. Most of the 600 people we handed out leaflets too were already onside or appalled when they learnt the details of the workfare scheme, however a significant minority parroted the phrases of the right wing press. “People should be made to work for their benefits”, “I have to work why shouldn’t they?”.
The most important message to get across with these demonstrations is this isn’t about a division between the employed and the unemployed, its about solidarity between everyone in the working class. This is an attack on all of us; those with jobs, those without, and all of us who are seeing billions of pounds of public money used to increase the profits of rich bosses while our essential public services are cut.