On 22 November, a dozen people, including members of benefit claimants’ groups Black Triangle and the Crutch Collective, Clydeside Industrial Workers Of The World, Glasgow Anarchist Federation, Glasgow Solidarity Federation as well as other individuals took part in the hour long picket of the Co-Op Bank and supermarket on the same street in central Glasgow.

We gave out leaflets to Co-Op customers and the hundreds of people going pass on their way home from work. The leaflet highlighted the Co-Op’s four year occupational health contract with Atos. Atos continue to make huge profits by continuing to assess most sick and disabled benefit claimants as fit for work, ignoring contrary medical evidence, to comply with Government targets for benefit cuts. The cuts are being imposed to make the poor pay again for the latest crisis in capitalism caused by the rich. We asked people to contact the Co-Op to tell the company, that sells itself as ethical, that they will be losing their custom until they cancel their contract with Atos.

Most interest came from older women who perhaps know from experience what the Co-Op is really about. Maybe they know the reality of the Co-Op’s claim that they have always been ethical, because they have always provided affordable prices to those in need. In past generations the Co-Op mostly employed women. Their exploitative employment practices are still the same as any other business. Historically the Co-Op has played a significant role in the daily lives of many working class people. But it’s contribution to working class emancipation has been marginal at best and at worst has added to illusion that such an aim can be achieved within the capitalist system. Like any other business it is open to the pressures that come with the fluctuations of the marketplace and has made workers redundant when the markets are down. Like any other bosses the Co-Op management have made older workers redundant, using the excuse of that they would be incapable of coping with the introduction new technology, that was never introduced, because managers had nothing better to do than manage workers like cogs in a machine.

Co-Op management tried to placate us with more empty words about ethics, rather than taking action against Atos. They have refused to rule out Atos from the bidding process for their new occupational contract, that starts next year, despite the unethical behaviour of Atos being well documented. If the Co-Op were interested in ethics they would have already publicly rejected an Atos bid. Their decision on who to award the new contract to will be based primarily on cheapness even though the profitable Co-Op do not have to do this out of economic necessity.

Atos and the police have been monitoring anti-Atos activity to try to manage dissent towards ineffectiveness. Now the Co-Op are up to it as well to help their Atos partners. The communications from Co-Op management, the hiring of extra security staff and the ludicrous number of police present for the picket show that the Co-Op are extremely worried about their ethical image, no matter how fake, even from the dent that can be caused to it by a relatively small group and one action. We must be doing something right. Just imagine what actions against the Atos contract by larger groups in more that one place could do.

Here is the text of the leaflet: It has recently been discovered that the Co-Op Bank and group of companies have had a 4 year occupational health contract with Atos, which is due to expire in July 2013. Here is the text of the leaflet: Atos make huge profits carrying out work capability assessments on sick and disabled people on behalf of the Government. As was exposed by a Channel 4 documentary they pass 7 out of 8 people as fit for work – to comply with Government targets for benefit cuts. Their decisions are not based on objective medical opinion. The Government are cutting benefits to reduce the debt caused by banks gambling on the financial markets. The most vulnerable in society are being made to pay for the greed of bankers, whose bonuses continue to rise, and for the inevitable booms and busts of capitalist economics. Citizens Advice Bureau Scotland have received 24,000 complaints about Atos. CAB win 80% of appeals against Atos finding people fit for work. The Daily Record reported on a Government survey that showed half of those found fit for work by Atos end up destitute. The Co-Op sells itself as an ethical company, but what ethical standards are they maintaining by continuing with a contract that gives millions to a company that cuts the benefits of sick and disabled people? Hundreds of people have already complained about the contract on The Co-operative Facebook page and by tweeting @TheCo-operative. Why not join them and tell the Co-Op that you will stop shopping at their supermarkets or that you will close your Co-Op bank account until they cancel the contract with Atos. You can also email customer.relations@co-op.co.uk. or contact Claimants Resisting Unfair Treatment, Cuts and Harassment thecrutchcollective.blogspot.co.uk/

Below is background on the Co-Op/Atos contract from the Atos Healthcare website. We will be asking the Co-Op Ethical Policy Manager how much the contract was worth and how much the new contract is worth, but are not expecting an answer. We are making it clear that the pickets and calls for a boycott will continue unless the Co-Op make a clear public statement that Atos will not be part of the tendering process for the new contract. The Co-Op has responded with a email saying that the tendering process for the new contract, that starts in March, has started, but that they can not name the bidders as the information is commercially sensitive.

The Co-operative Group and the Co-operative Financial Services choose Atos Healthcare London, 22 July 2009

Atos Healthcare, the number one occupational health provider in the UK1 and a business division of Atos Origin, today announced that it has won a contract with the Co-operative Group (tCG) and Cooperative Financial Services (CFS). Under the new contract, Atos Healthcare will provide occupational healthcare services for the 82,000 employees who serve around 10 million customers a week through food, pharmacy, travel, funeral care, motor dealerships, legal and financial services. Atos Healthcare will provide pre-employment referrals and absence management including physiotherapy and workstation assessments to help improve employee wellbeing and reduce absence. “Occupational health is a business critical service in people focussed organisation like ours,” said Graham Greaves, Occupational Health, Safety & Wellbeing Manager at CFS. “Atos Healthcare presented a solution that will enable us to further improve and standardise our occupational health service right across our organisation. It also demonstrated how by implementing new management information and trend analysis tools, we can better monitor our service and ensure that it continues to meet the needs of our employees in the future.” “We are absolutely delighted to win the contract to provide Occupational Health Services to The Cooperative Group, the UK’s largest mutual retailer,” said Gary Gear, General Manager for Occupational Health and Primary Care Services, Atos Healthcare. “This success further strengthens Atos Healthcare’s position as the UK’s number one Occupational Heath Services provider.”

compiled by Susan Dorazio, Clydeside IWW

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