Susan Dorazio (RCN and IWW) has submitted these two pieces – Anti-Workfare protestors in Leith blockade and occupy Superdrug and British Heart Foundation
Protestors blockaded and occupied both British Heart Foundation and Superdrug in Edinburgh today Saturday 8 December, in opposition to their participation in the government’s workfare schemes.
A huge banner declaring IF YOU EXPLOIT US WE WILL SHUT YOU DOWN blocked the entrance to the BHF furniture store in Leith’s Kirkgate centre as demonstrators occupied the shop. Impromptu speeches were given inside and out, explaining that although BHF had claimed to be “moving away” from workfare, they were still taking on new compulsory placements.
After half an hour inside BHF, protestors moved round the corner to blockade Superdrug. Many stopped to listen to spokespeople for the protest who gave speeches through a megaphone, stressing that this action was part of the wider resistance to the attacks by the rich on the poor. Hundreds took leaflets denouncing workfare and in particular the new imposition of workfare on the sick and disabled. Many people came up to the stall outside the occupied stores and joined ECAP’s solidarity network for mutual support against the authorities.
Demonstrators then moved inside Superdrug, where a protestor gave a speech explaining that this action was against workfare and in solidarity with Superdrug workers whose wages and conditions were being undermined by the company’s use of workfare. In Brighton Superdrug are not taking on Xmas staff but are using workfare conscripts instead. Although the police and the Kirkgate’s security guards were present they did not attempt to stop the occupations.
The demo, part of Boycott Workfare’s Britain-wide week of action, was organised by Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty and supported by Greater Leith Against the Cuts. The protest, around 40-strong, was considered a real success by participants. Hopefully British Heart Foundation will now realise that they must withdraw completely from workfare or suffer continued disruption, and the anti workfare movement will grow and spread to effectively challenge all users of forced unpaid labour.
Anti-Workfare protestors join day of action in Glasgow
On Saturday 8th December as part of the Boycott Workfare Week Of Action a couple of dozen people from Clydeside Industrial Workers Of The World, the Crutch Collective, Glasgow Anarchist Federation, Glasgow Solidarity Federation, the Right To Work Campaign and other individuals leafleted a branch of Superdrug in one of the city centre’s busiest streets. The one thousand leaflets given out highlighted Superdrug taking on even more people on the Government’s ‘Work Experience’ workfare scheme for the Christmas period. The extra people on workfare means less holiday pay for the regular staff. There was a lot of police about and Superdrug had hired extra security for the day. However the combination of the picket, the leaflet saying, ‘Don’t Shop At Superdrug’ and the added security costs meant we succeeded in our objective of costing Superdrug money for using Workfare. Thanks to everyone who took part. Apparently someone also left placards saying ‘Superdrug + Unpaid Work = Superdrudgery’ outside their other city centre branch.
The picket also attracted some media attention from local journalists. The Sunday Mail, with a reported readership of around one million, mentioned the Edinburgh, Dundee and Glasgow protests, and their article, ‘Big Businesses Taking On Jobless Young People To Work Unpaid Over Christmas’, helped get our general message across to a larger audience. It appears to contain some useful information on the extent of Workfare involvement of a number of companies, but it also includes some of the distortions of the reality of Workfare by these companies and the Department for Work and Pensions. We would have to question if the newspaper verified any of the information in the statements of the Workfare companies and the D.W.P.
Revealed: Big businesses taking on jobless young people to work unpaid over Christmas
The Superdrug distortions – ‘Work Experience’ is not voluntary in practice. Job Centre Plus and third party workfare profiteers like A4E bully benefit claimants on to the scheme. Benefit claimants can have their benefits cut if they do not continue to ‘volunteer’ to stay on the scheme, after they have been on the scheme for a week. Only a tiny number of people on workfare get jobs afterwards.
For example it is 3.5% for the ‘Work Programme’ and that includes participants getting jobs with other companies and very short-term jobs. Stacking shelves for Superdrug is not learning a skill. Argos state that ‘Work Experience’ people work alongside paid colleagues, but don’t replace them, but the permanent staff lose out on holiday pay.
Why aren’t all of their temporary staff paid? Of the 25% Poundland say left their ‘work experience’ early, because they received a job offer elsewhere, how many were going to get offered a job anyhow? Poundland also put a positive spin on 10% going on to get jobs with them, but that means 90% do not, while Poundland continue to make profits from all the unpaid labour.
We brought forward the time of the picket so that people could take part in he UK UnCut Starbucks demo in Glasgow. UK UnCut have been making the links between tax avoidance, cuts to public services and their impact on women. The Starbucks PR machine has gone into overdrive saying that they will pay a few more peanuts in tax in the next couple of years based on their own estimates while they don’t mention all the unpaid tax from the past in their media releases. It has been revealed that the tax payments will be paid for by cuts to the terms and conditions of the Starbucks staff.
The IWW Starbucks Workers Union is looking for volunteer organisers to help them organise Starbucks staff to fight these cuts c/o – PO Box 7593, Glasgow G42 2EX
One person did manage to get inside the Sauchiehall Street coffee shop with leaflets, but there was too many police for a Refuge from the Cuts to be set up in this branch of Starbucks. The demo moved on to create a noisy presence with cake outside the Starbucks on Buchanan Street, another one of the main shopping streets in Glasgow.
From there a few people went on to picket the city centre furniture store of the British Heart Foundation.
The manager of the store aggressively told us we needed a permit to hand out leaflets. This is another fake claim from BHF. When we told him we didn’t need one he told us he was then going to ring the police and he stropped off phone in hand. Of course the police never arrived. A customer said that the manager said we were talking ‘shit’, but at the same time the manager had confirmed that that they do use Workfare in that store. BHF have had 1500 placements on ‘Mandatory Work Activity’ and the ‘Work Programme’.
Despite BHF claims, the schemes are not voluntary. BHF must know the meaning of the word, ‘mandatory’. All workfare companies have to sign a contract saying that they will report anyone who does not show up for the schemes, which automatically results in benefit claimants having their benefits cut. BHF have vaguely stated that are ‘moving away’ from workfare at some unspecified point in the future, but hopefully this picket and others will bring their use of workfare to a halt sooner rather than later. They have been pressurised in to making another public statement, which could be a sign that they are about to cave in.
We are already making plans for a bigger Anti-Workfare campaign in the new year.
Hopefully we will have photos of the picket here soon: