A solid group of claimants, anarchists and activists continued to pile up the pressure on workfare profiteers Poundland and Tesco this weekend, with pickets set up at city centre stores in Liverpool. By stressing the purpose of a (retailer) picket line to shoppers, we were able to effectively turn away large numbers of people heading for poverty exploiters Poundland.
The Willenhall-based discount chain had the audacity to restart their ‘voluntary’ workfare scheme the day after the High Court rejected* claims that the government’s work schemes amounted to forced labour. What Poundland, and 100’s of other retailers, fully understand is working 30 hours a week for no wage is free labour and sourcing that labour through the state-as-employer guarantees that labour to be disciplined, indirectly, by the threat of benefit sanctions. Poundland calling the scheme voluntary makes no difference to the underlying exploitation the scheme is founded on.
For those who, bizarrely, support the idea of workfare, Public Interest Lawyers, who represented Cait Reilly in the High Court, have this to say on the idea of working for your benefits:
It is paid for one specific (and obvious) purpose – to support people whilst they seek employment. It is not remuneration for work, and even if it were it would mean that people on Back to Work schemes would be getting paid as little as £1.78 per hour, often whilst working for some of our biggest retailers.
Whilst speaking with people about Poundland, it was brought to our attention that Marks and Spencer have also been dipping into the workfare labour pool. A shopper let on to us that her son has been working at M&S unwaged, as part of the fraud-ridden government work schemes. This backs up recent doubts over M&S’ Marks and Start programme that allegedly ‘helps’ the homeless, lone parents, young people and the long-term unemployed back to work by teaching them how to stack shelves. Yes, the hallowed work ethic is re-installed in the marginalized by forcing them to repeat the same actions over-and-over again as part of a bus fare & butty placement. Loyal customers will, understandably, be horrified to learn M&S is exploiting the unemployed, and Combat Workfare will do everything it can to let as many people know that their pre-packaged meals come with a forced labour price tag.
Our second target was State favorites Tesco who, despite making noises about withdrawing from workfare programmes, maintain their exploitation of the unemployed through veiled work ‘placement’ and ‘experience’ schemes. We gave out hundreds of leaflets at both pickets, informing people of the various workfare schemes that claimants can be subjected to and, as always, there was a great response from the public.
We cannot let these companies get away with the exploitation of the unemployed and we must counter the humiliating propaganda that's accompanying the rolling out of workfare across the country. Any of us could be subjected to forced unpaid work through the government's back to work schemes, so it's in the interest of all of us that we fight back. At the end of the day, workfare is an attack on the work and welfare of the unemployed and employed. It not only provides a source of cheap labour to profit-making companies, but it also undemines the pay and conditons of those already in paid work.
More actions announced over the next few days.
*The High Court ruling on the government’s workfare schemes is to be challenged