In a very short space of time the action snowballed, with autonomous groups organising actions against B&M in at least 20 towns and cities across the UK (let us know if we’ve left you off the list below!). It was truly a moment of solidarity: “If you exploit us we will close you down!”
Many of these groups were new or recently formed, which shows the exciting beginnings of campaigns against sanctions and workfare in even more localities. It also shows that such groups can get going almost anywhere. They can have immediate impacts and that there are many, many people out there who want to take direct action to bring an end to the exploitation, misery and poverty caused by workfare and sanctions.
The impact on B&M was clear – almost no one entered their shops while protests were taking place. And as always on anti-workfare protests, the response from the public was hugely supportive. Passers-by were shocked and appalled at a company not paying its workers. Many had never even heard of workfare and sanctions, and this shows how much the imposition of these schemes rely on maintaining unawareness in the wider public. It also points to serious questions around mainstream media’s coverage of these issues.
At the Norwich protest, a manager admitted that he, like all managers, are given a fixed amount to spend on wages. Therefore, he can only only cover all the tasks to be done during opening hours by using workfare – while B&M Bargains made about £100 million profit last year.
Elsewhere, another manager argued that those on workfare were on “work experience”. A month of full-time work in a low-skilled job is not work experience. It is only work. But instead of a wage paid in exchange for labour as in the classic understanding of a job, compulsion is used that forces those on workfare to work for free or face sanctions.
With other companies, keeping up the pressure through monthly or even weekly pickets can be incredibly effective. Norwich has already had a follow-up protest the weekend after!
Contact B&M – Remind B&M of the reasons that workfare is unfair and the impact it could have on the company if it continues to exploit its workers.
Main Telephone: 0151 728 5400 (or search the B&M website for a local store contact) If there is interest, there could also be another National Day of Action, perhaps to coincide with the opening of a new B&M store.
Some example slogans from protests around the UK:
Workfare = Claimant Trafficking
Fair Work, not Workfare
B&M: Big Profits, No Wages
They say work, we say pay us!
Workfare = Exploitation
Don’t shop where they don’t pay wages!
Workfare = Not Fair
If you exploit us we will shut you down!
List of actions that took place:
Actions in Wales – pictures and updates on the joint Facebook page:
– Rheidol Retail Park, Aberystwyth
– Y Coed Duon/Blackwood
– Merthyr Tydfil
– Caerdydd, Heol Casnewydd/Cardiff, Newport Road
– Casnewydd/Newport – 2 branches (Maesglas, and the Kingsway Centre)
– Ceredigion (near Aberystwyth)
– Cwmdu (Swansea)
Edinburgh (Musselburgh) – organised by Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty; a write-up of the action is at: http://edinburghagainstpoverty.org.uk/node/177
Birkenhead, Wirral – Unite Community Branch in Wirral; pictures on Facebook.
Liverpool, Toxteth – Liverpool IWW wrote up this action here.
Liverpool, Marina Walk Ellesmere Port – supported by Unite Community Ellesmore Port and Cheshire West Trades Council.
Birmingham, Priory Square Shopping Centre – Birmingham Claimants Union
Pool, Cornwall – Cornwall Anti-Cuts Alliance
Norwich – Norwich Claimants Union
Tottenham, London – Haringey Left Unity
Willesden, London – Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group
Rotherham, Great Eastern Retail Park, Park Gate (Off Beale Way)
Haymarket Sheffield S1 2AX – organised by Sheffield Uncut.
Sheffield, Meersbrook. Pictures and brief report online here.