Category Archives: workfare

Tory Welfare Cuts – Against Hardworking People

Lies. Damned lies. Sadistics.

The banner over the entrance to the Tory Party conference in Manchester this week may have read “For hardworking people”. But that was just another lie. This government – even more blatantly than the last one – governs on behalf of the richest. And the richest don’t work hard at all. So much for virtue.

In fact, the centrepiece of new policy announcements this week were snide measures calculated to make hardworking people receive even less compensation for their efforts, by using the unemployed as a battering ram against wages and conditions. Prices have risen higher than wages for all but one month since the coalition came to power, but the rate of exploitation will never be high enough for the ruling class.

When the new government announced the start of the cuts in 2010, I wrote that it represented: ‘the logic of the workhouse’, because:

“Despite his professed concern for the UK’s “broken society”, Duncan Smith wants to cut the welfare bill, and – perhaps more importantly from the ruling class point of view – exert downward pressure on wages, by having many more desperate people fighting for each vacancy.”

Duncan Smith has faced many difficulties imposing such attacks in the period since – both from legal challenges and grassroots activism. But while IDS himself seems to be a fading force, the latest measures are tougher still.

If the Tories get their way (and this is a big if considering the chaos surrounding past reforms), as Johnny Void reported:

“Osborne claims that 200,000 people will be forced into either full time workfare or massively increased conditionality – such as having to attend Jobcentres everyday. This will apply to people leaving the Work Programme, the two year scheme which is already costing tax payers a fortune and failing miserably.”

This new workfare scheme is expected to include tasks such as litter picking, and preparing meals for the elderly. At the moment however, fifty thousand unemployed people are leaving the Work Programme each month. With the new workfare scheme lasting six months, there could soon be 300,000 extra people at any one time performing unpaid work. In the context of deepening austerity, these people will effectively be forced to scab on employed people doing the same kind of things in return for a wage. More redundancies will undoubtedly follow, as workfare partly fills the gap.

IDS was relegated to making an announcement that:

“[…] will see unemployed people sent to sit around ‘job searching’ in Mandatory Attendance Centres for 35 hours a week. This is the kind of expert help for unemployed people that was so savagely satirised in the comedy show The League of Gentlemen featuring Pauline, the jobsworth jobs counsellor who took delight in humiliating and demeaning her ‘clients’.”

Today, David Cameron floated his intention to withdraw benefits entirely from under-25s judged not in education, employment or training, should the Tories win a majority at the next general election.

But it’s ridiculous to suggest unemployment is caused by some sort of laziness, as the Tories have again and again this week. Officially, there are currently 2.5 million people unemployed, and the government’s austerity policies have done much to exacerbate this during such economic crisis. But at any one time, there are only around 500,000 vacancies. This leaves five unemployed people chasing every job (not counting those in paid work who are looking for a change). It’s a dream scenario for the employer, who can offer lower wages and conditions, while raising the bar ever higher in terms of experience and qualification required.

The coalition has so far succeeded in using the five year old economic depression to dramatically increase the rate of exploitation – the gap between the value workers produce and the compensation they take home. We can’t allow this continue. Unemployed people must begin organising themselves – as they have started to do in Merseyside and other places over the bedroom tax. But those currently in employment must realise that the Tory welfare cuts are primarily aimed at making them work even harder for even less reward, and join in solidarity with those even less fortunate than themselves.

Advertisements

Goverment Defies Court To Reinstate Workfare

Despite the court’s decision, the struggle against workfare continues…

It has been a dramatic day for the government schemes collectively known as ‘workfare’. After a Royal Courts of Justice ruling this morning, it appeared that the coalition’s policy was in tatters, and that the state would be liable for payments to claimants sanctioned for not taking part in the ultra-exploitative programmes. This evening, the Department for Work and Pensions claims it has re-written the rules, so workfare will be continue to be legal, and will presumably this will apply retroactively.

When Cait Reilly first took her case against being forced to work in Poundland for free to court, she lost, and Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith branded her and other Workfare opponents “job snobs”. Of course, it was never about feeling that certain types of work are below us, but rather that certain levels of pay – i.e. zero – are unacceptable.

This morning, judges ruled that Duncan Smith had acted unlawfully by giving the unemployed insufficient information about the penalties they faced and their rights to appeal against being made to work unpaid for often hundreds of hours. According to The Guardian, “The court ruling means tens of thousands of unemployed people who have been sanctioned under schemes such as Work Experience and the Work Programme are entitled to a rebate.”

However, the government immediately hit back, declaring that: “We have no intention of giving back money to anyone who has had their benefits removed because they refused to take getting into work seriously.” Of course, if the government was taking the social problem of unemployment seriously, it would: a) immediately stop all cuts, b) reverse those that have already taken place, and c) confiscate the ill-gotten riches of the super-rich and use the revenue to start a massive public works programme. But as representatives of those same financial aristocrats, they are happy with a situation where workfare chips away at the wages and job security of those in employment, building up an ever-larger reserve army of labour, willing to take any wage to do any work.

To that end, the Department for Work and Pensions announced that it has re-written its own guidelines to comply with the ruling, arrogantly tweeting that: “For those of a parliamentary mind the Jobseekers Allowance (Schemes for Assisting Persons to Obtain Employment) Regs 2013 have been laid.” A Google search took me to a link for the legislation, which is not due to come into force til 29th April this year – some ten weeks away. But despite this, the government asserts that all those on or about to start workfare schemes have to keep attending or face a loss of benefits, whilst denying that this amounts to anything approaching forced labour.

Confusion reigns, but to say the least the government’s actions seem legally dubious, leaving aside the outrageous class warfare of their behaviour. For all the liberal democratic ideas about the courts being a check on the powers of the executive and the legislative branch, in the end the government holds the final supremacy whilst it controls police, army, and purse strings.

Further direct action will be necessary to knock out more workfare exploiters.

Liverpool Starbucks and Poundland Targeted on Day of Action

The scene at the front of Bold Street Starbucks at Saturday lunchtime…

A large group of activists wreaked a little bit of havoc with pre-Christmas capitalist business as usual on Saturday afternoon, as they joined in with a nationwide UK Uncut action, and also targeted workfare exploiters Poundland.

The five hours of fun began at noon, with a static rally organised by Liverpool Against The Cuts, who also played a co-ordinating and publicising role in the run-up to Saturday. It took place next to the Co-operative bank on the corner of Bold Street, and like other recent demos, it seemed quite isolated from the general public milling by. A handful of speakers decried the government’s austerity agenda through a megaphone, but it appeared to make little impact on busy shoppers.

After a few minutes, a group led by the Socialist Singers and the Angry Women of Liverpool made their move on the local branch of Starbucks – the multi-billion pound company which has recently been making the headlines for its ability to avoid paying tax. Police were monitoring the front Bold Street entrance, and the back door had been locked, but a small number of us managed to get inside by simply posing as customers and strolling past the cops. Once inside, the AWOL banner was unfurled. This inevitably provoked the anger of the manager and a plainclothes cop/security guard, who claimed he “didn’t want to hurt” one demonstrator, but twisted her hand and wrist in opposite directions as she and comrades were bundled out of the building.

But by this time, the Socialist Singers had massed outside the front entrance, effectively blocking it, and scores more had moved from the static demo to hear them/join in, creating a ‘wall of sound’. The front door was also locked, and only opened when the customers already inside wanted to leave.

The shop was closed for at least a couple of hours over the busy lunchtime period, and many caffeine seekers were turned away. Most left with no complaint once they were informed we’d closed the branch due to Starbucks’ refusal to pay taxes, and the link with the austerity bearing down on us all was constantly reinforced by the many placards and banners. But one American appeared to be in denial, claiming it was “an objective fact I can get coffee in this shop”, while another man announced he supported the cuts to “bad nurses and bad teachers”, for which he was roundly booed and denounced as “Tory scum”.

Eventually, a breakaway group moved away in knots of twos and threes, in order to hit the Liverpool One Starbucks branch half a mile down the road. There we encountered more hostility from the manager and one cop in particular, but this time the element of surprise meant that we’d got more bodies into the shop itself, therefore making it more difficult to evict us all without arrests. After much shouting, a lengthy standoff ensued, while passers-by took photos through the windows, many of which were uploaded on social networking websites.

…and the back!

Finally, the police ran out of patience, and ‘good cop’ was sent over to couch a threat of arrest under aggressive trespass legislation in “respect for your right to demonstrate” and acknowledgement that “you’ve had a really successful protest”. At this point we decided to walk out together, with large numbers maintaining a picket outside, whilst others of us swapped UK Uncut for Boycott Workfare, and descended on the Williamson Square Poundland.

We have held many pickets there over the past few months, and normally the security guard merely asks us to make sure we are not blocking access as we hand out leaflets and talk to people about the workfare scheme. This time however – perhaps because his patience had run out or perhaps due to Christmas pressure – he threatened to call the police, before actually calling three other ‘security’ men, one of whom was a massive tracksuited guy. This individual proceeded to push one protester, throw balled-up pieces of paper at me, and make gang signs. Another threatened to meet demonstrators “down a dark alley”.

The law did arrive about twenty minutes later, and as is usual they marched straight inside to consult with the store security. When they emerged, they were deaf to our complaints about the criminal acts committed by ‘security’, but the senior cop clearly didn’t want to make any arrests either, so he merely repeated the normal security mantra of “make sure you don’t block the door”, having warned his junior colleague to back off and calm down. Many potential customers took our literature, and stopped for a chat.

As the clock ticked round to five, we decided to call it a day, satisfied that we had put in hours of excellent work. The afternoon had been a massive success – costing Starbucks significant amounts of money, and generating great publicity for our causes. These victories were only possible due to the coming together of many different groups and unaligned people on the radical left, which gave us the numbers necessary to make a big physical impact, and made for a fantastic atmosphere. However, we need to make more effort to communicate with the workers in the shops. In the case of Poundland and other workfare profiteers, real jobs and wages are being undermined by the scheme. And Starbucks declared war on its staff this week, as it refused to accept any cut in profits if and when it decides to pay some corporation tax.

Saturday’s events provided a brief, tantalising hint of working class power, but real change will have to be based on workplace organisation.

Liverpool Shoppers Turn Their Backs On Workfare Exploiters

A group of around a dozen activists held successful demonstrations at two Liverpool shops taking advantage of the government’s workfare scheme this afternoon. Many refused to cross our picket line and give Poundland and Tesco their business, after finding out that both use what is effectively slave labour to boost their profit margins. While anti-workfare campaigning has had some success, it is vital to keep hammering away at the scheme.

Not only is important in of itself, as any one of us could find us facing compulsory unpaid labour, it can be part of resurrecting narratives of class struggle and working class solidarity. It is essential to get across the fact that the introduction of ‘free’ work undermines the position of all who are paid for it.

As I described in my February article ‘Why Workfare is an Attack on the Entire Working Class’:

“Capitalism is based on exploitation. That’s to say at root, it is exploitation. Without exploitation there could be no profit, because profit is the difference between the value of a worker’s labour and their compensation for it. This contradiction is the foundation of all class struggle – the employers always want to extract more value from their employees, and the employees desire the opposite. How much better for an employer then – and how much worse for the employee – for there to be a wage of zero!” 

Today we began at the Poundland store on Williamson Square. With its two, big entrances, this posed a challenge, but when we fanned ourselves out with banners, flags and leaflets we were able to form an effective symbolic barrier, and get our point across to each and every customer. We got far more support than criticism, and loads turned away, especially when offered the alternative of Poundworld on Church Street. Those who did go in often looked particularly shamefaced when our megaphone guy announced they were “helping the Tories.”

We then journeyed to the Tesco on Bold Street, where we also got a generally favourable public reception. A far higher proportion crossed us however, with one otherwise sympathetic person returning to go past, complaining that Sainsbury’s “don’t have [their] brand of fizzy water.” 

The revolution clearly has a long way to go, but it was a positive day, and we will be back for more very soon! Every pound lost to Poundland due to workfare is a pound they could potentially choose to pay an employee – just £6.20 per hour would fund a minimum wage! And as for Tesco, they are of course absolute giants, but as they never fail to say, ‘Every little helps!’

The Liverpool Claimant Network write-up can be read here.

Anti-Workfare Activists Blockade A4e Liverpool Communications

At the time of writing, anti-workfare activists on Merseyside and around the UK are mounting a communications blockade on A4e Liverpool.

A4e (Action for Employment) are notorious private sector enablers of the government’s plans to force the growing numbers of unemployed into unpaid work, on pain of losing their barely subsistence-level benefits. This is an attack on the entire working class, as it exerts downwards pressure on all wages and working conditions. For this reason, a communications blockade – with the aim of making the administration of workfare unprofitable – is an act of working class self-defence.

Today’s action is just one part of a coordinated campaign against workfare. Other events will be publicised on the Liverpool Solidarity Federation website.

Below are contact details for A4e. Use any means necessary to make your point – argument, music, whatever. The main thing is to tie up their communications as much as possible. And spread the word!


Tel: 0151 243 3670

Fax: 0151 236 1991
Send free faxes online via – http://www.freepopfax.com/
From popfax, input number as +44 (leave out 0)

A4e Chief Executive Officer: ADutton@a4e.co.uk
General A4e e-mail: customerservices@a4e.co.uk
Free email – https://www.hushmail.com/

If you use Twitter, also feel free to make your complaints to these accounts:

@OfficialA4e
@a4epress
@LouiseSDuncan Development Director – active
@JoelAWms Wales Development Director for A4e – m-active
@JustineZwerling A4e’s international department – secure
@AniaMendrek Operations manager – active
@A4eJoBlundell Group Development Director for A4e – inactive
@Masonic53 A4e Director of Disability Strategy m-active
@AllanAllison Business Developer for A4e – inactive
@ByrneJen Strategic Director – Justice at A4e – inactive
@robharvey Research Manager at A4e active
@JontOC – Director of Strategy & Policy at A4e – v active/will respond

Workfare Combated In Liverpool

Demonstrators leaving Whitechapel en route to Bold Street

On Saturday, around forty activists responded to a callout by Liverpool Solidarity Federation, and picketed companies profiting from the coalition government’s workfare scheme. The demonstrators generally won a sympathetic reaction from the public, and the contribution of local musicians provided a much-needed morale boost as the skies opened.

The term ‘workfare’ is being used to describe a number of government programmes, and the upshot of them all is that unemployed people are compelled to give away their labour for free – often to extremely profitable corporations – or risk losing their barely subsistence level benefits. This is an attack on all working class people, because it exerts downward pressure on wages, and encourages the replacement of paid jobs with unpaid schemes, contributing to a recessionary spiral of unemployment.

Our first target was health food outlet Holland & Barrett’s Whitechapel shop. In spite of its ‘ethical’ branding, H&B are seeking to augment last year’s £44 million pre-tax profits by exploiting free labour. Few crossed our picket line during the hour we were there, with far more taking leaflets and discussing workfare with us. After maybe half an hour a couple of cops appeared, and they talked with the store manager before proceeding to watch from a distance

Activists ‘occupied’ Argos and Tesco

We then moved on to Argos (£106.9 million profit last year) on Bold Street. Some of us stayed outside with banners, while others went inside to ‘occupy’ the catalogue spaces. Police joined them, and again our action received lots of public support. At one point, the manager of the shop next door emerged and confronted us, threatening to “tear the banners down”. The plod escorted him back inside, so it was clear they had been told to more or less leave us be, and wait for the action to end in its own time.

Our final stop was Tesco, who feel the need not to pay workers despite making £3.9 billion last year. When some of our number went inside, the manager became visibly upset, and asked Liverpool’s finest if it would be okay to lock them in! Having presumably been warned that this might be legally dubious, he backed away from that threat. But the Bold Street branch had very few paying customers over the next hour, as again, many more seemed to take note of our demonstration.

It was a successful afternoon’s work, but the fight goes on! Liverpool activists are gearing up for a month of actions, in the run-up to the early July national week of action called by the Boycott Welfare conference. If you can’t make it to physical pickets, communications blockades are also being planned. Please get involved in any way you can, because an injury to one truly is an injury to all!