On Saturday 13th of December, a group of spirited anarchists and other rebellious pixies, donned Christmas hats and Santa beards. Armed with several hundred leaflets, several dozen mince pies, and a handful of song sheets we set out to inject a bit of anti capitalist rebellion into the heart of the consumer season!
We’d decided that companies exploiting people via the governments ‘workfare’ forced labour schemes were particularly worthy of our scorn at this time of year. We set about demonstrating and partying outside and, despite the protests of a tag along PCSO, inside a number of serial offenders.
UPDATE: Homebase are feeling the heat, time to turn it up! Bristol Demo This saturday ( Facebook / Indymedia ) Bath on Sunday ( Facebook / Indymedia) and two demos called in London. More in the works… In the mean time keep up the pressure online!
Yesterday, sources including Tom Prides blog, revealed that Homebase had been recruiting unpaid workers via a ‘work experience program’. Even worse they were actually boasting about getting extra hours of work by exploiting job seekers and reducing their ‘payroll costs’. A poster was spotted in a management office asking ‘would 750 hours with no payroll costs benefit your store?‘. Few companies are this brutally honest about their motivations!
Our first response was to ‘politely contact’ homebase online, and we were far from the only ones. Angry comments on twitter & facebook were popping up faster than they could delete them. They managed to remove ours, only for a many of our facebook friends to repost it. All these responses seemed to worry the management at Homebase and they quickly put out a couple of rushed statements including:
‘[..] The company has not signed up to the workfare programme, but, on occasions, works with local organisations to help unemployed people into the workplace. A number of unemployed people have recently joined our Haringey store through JobCentre Plus in a short, voluntary programme, to gain work experience. They are entirely under no obligation to participate, nor will non participation affect any benefits. Colleagues at this store also have not been impacted by this programme in any reduction of hours.’ and ‘Some of our best colleagues have joined us having previously been unemployed […]’ Continue reading
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?‘. Continue reading
Work Program officially does more harm than good; only 3.6% of participants secured a steady job compared to a predicited 5.5% if the program had never existed.
The Work Program is one of five government ‘workfare schemes’ that force unemployed people to work usually menial jobs for no money. Benefit caimants are threatened with poverty and sanctions if they refuse to participate and given the vaugue proise of a ‘real job’ at the end of it. The statistics for the first year of the program shouldn’t be suprising to anyone, least of all the government, whos own research predicted this outcome!
Getting people to work for free during a time of high unemployment means the few jobs that would have been available to unemployed people are instead given to workfare placements. Sure you get a bit of ‘experience’, but after your six months of unpaid work will your employer really want start giving you a wage when they can just rely on the government to force more people to do the work for free?
Workfare isn’t cheap either, the guardian recently reported it was costing more than the entire bill for Job Seekers Allowance. If you already have a job you can still be affected, the surplus of free temportary labour that workfare provides allows employeers to cut down on staff overtime, give less work to those on flexible contracts, and drives down wages for everyone.
With all these negative points, why would the govenment start the scheme in the first place? Well one answer is rigging statistics, if someone is on a workfare scheme they are no longer ‘unemployed’ so the employment figures look a hell of a lot better. More than though its simply its a con. The private agencies running the schemes get millions in tax payers money, and whilst one or two have faced charges of fraud its far more wide spread than a couple of bad apples. All the free labour for large companies is certainly saving some fat cats a lot of extra money to go towards their bonuses aswell.
Ofcourse all of this hasn’t gone unnoticed, the scheme has been wildly unpopular and attracted massive negative press attention, and hundreds of demonstrations around the country. Boycott Workfare, SolFed, Afed and others have all played their part in forcing large companies out of the scheme due with pickets and occupations, we think its time to kick the scheme while its down and end workfare once and for all. Keep your eyes peeled for updates, see you on the streets soon!
Heres our own Leaflet: from earlier this year predicting this: Anti Workfare Leaflet
The spring & early summer saw an active campaign against companies involved in workfare in Bristol; Youth fight for jobs organised a demo, followed by three more organised by ourselves. We saw successes as part of a national campaign that resulted in numerous high profile companies pulling out including Boots, Sainsburys, BHS and Holland&Barratt – who now pay their new staff.
However since then things have been a bit quiet, and the government has taken this as an oppurtunity to push the scheme again convincing retailers to take people on workfare schemes instead of hiring temporary christmas staff or giving existing workers more overtime.
So its about time it all kicked off again! Our Friends over at Solfed have called for a demonstration focusing its attention on Poundland (solfeds workfare target nationally), taking place this Sunday. Bring yourselves, banners, flags and your mates!
Where: Poundland, 42 – 46 East Street, Bedminster.
When: This Sunday(18th) 11.30am – 1pm
(those of you in east bristol can get the train from stapleton road > bedminster (changing at templemeads, takes half an hour)
Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/556646751018678/
Indymedia Event: https://www.bristol.indymedia.org.uk/article/711772
Before it even starts, the Week of Action against workfare has had a major success: Primary target Holland & Barrett who have been using workfare on a huge scale (1100 placements a year amongst a workforce of 3500) have said that “the 60 people currently undertaking the work experience scheme will be the last to complete the eight week placement. After this time Holland & Barrett will not participate further in that scheme.”
Unable to acknowledge people’s ethical concerns about them using an unpaid workforce on a massive scale, they have made the hilarious claim that the decision is due to the threat to customer and staff safety from our peaceful protests planned this weekend! These follow regular pickets called by Sol Fed who co-ordinated a national campaign against the company’s involvement in workfare.
But Holland & Barrett aren’t totally off the hook yet. They continue to use the current 60 workfare placements until these finish. Their announcement indicates that they intend to replace workfare with apprentices, which would allow them to pay a wage of just £2.60 an hour, far below the living wage.
Nevertheless, their announcement shows that our protests can push back workfare in the UK. Holland & Barrett is just one of hundreds of businesses, pubilc sector employers and charities profiting from replacing paid work with workfare. Protests will continue this week to target other brands still involved. These include British Heart Foundation, who have boasted that they have at least one workfare placement in every store, Argos, Superdrug, ShoeZone, Asda, Tescos, Wh Smith, Wilkinsons…
see http://www.boycottworkfare.org/ for more