We feel we should publicly state the facts as they are at present regarding relations between Boycott Workfare and a number of trade unions. This follows the recent appearance of some misleading reports which suggest that the GMB, PCS, and Unite trade unions are affiliated to the campaign or working with us.
One of the first actions the campaign ever launched was a pledge for unions to sign which states: “We the undersigned commit to refusing to participate in compulsory work-for-benefits placements. We want volunteering to remain just that!”
Some unions have been quick to recognise that workfare is an attack on employed as well as unemployed people. The Bakers and Allied Food Workers Union signed the pledge last year and have called for industrial action to challenge workfare. Many branches have also offered their support and challenged workfare in their workplaces: for example, GMB and UNISON members prevented workfare being used by Brighton City Council.
But the picture elsewhere is much less heartening: the TUC has supported sanctions along with Labour’s form of workfare. The PCS leadership blocked motions to challenge sanctions at their conference, claiming action against sanctions would be illegal and voting only to ‘explore the possibility’ of non-cooperation with sanctions as part of ‘an appropriate and legitimate trade dispute’. Despite recently beginning to recruit unemployed members, Unite’s general secretary last week welcomed a speech in which Ed Milliband promised a cap on the benefit bill, more sanctions and workfare.
The facts are as follows: the GMB have voted to affiliate with Boycott Workfare, but have at no stage been in touch with the campaign to discuss this with us. Whilst we welcome the good news that GMB members have voted to support our campaign, we must point out that we do not operate an affiliation scheme: the GMB is not affiliated with us, nor do we currently work with them. We hope the vote at the GMB congress marks a definitive break in the union’s policy: in the past they have promoted workfare. We hope that the GMB will commit its resources and energy to challenging workfare and we look forward to working with them if they do.
The PCS do not work with Boycott Workfare, or support the campaign. Neither does UNITE. Boycott Workfare, again, is not affiliated with either union. Motions condemning workfare have been passed by them. However, beyond individual branches’ actions, in reality no concrete action against workfare or sanctions has ever been taken by any of these organizations. Aside from the individual branches listed on our website, no unions have ever donated money or resources to the Boycott Workfare campaign. In the coming weeks we will clarify what role, if any, we think Unions have played in opposing workfare and sanctions.
We feel we have to state this, given what appear to be recent attempts to co-opt Boycott Workfare into anti-austerity campaigns that are funded and backed by those whose stated public policy position means they in fact support the use of both workfare and sanctions.
Boycott Workfare is a totally independent grassroots campaign.We are not a front for any political party, or affiliated with any party. We will not be not part of any official ‘anti- austerity’ campaign that does not condemn all sanctions and compulsion – both of which in fact are central to austerity. We will only work with organisations whose actions demonstrate their opposition to all forms of workfare and sanctions.
Workfare replaces paid jobs, it does not create them. Sanctions are used to force people to do workfare: they lead to hunger and destitution. Workfare and sanctions combined are destroying jobs, lives and the welfare state on an unprecedented scale. When Universal Credit is introduced, sanctions will be extended to millions of low-paid workers – including trade union members – who claim in-work benefits. All three political parties support workfare and sanctions.
Actions are needed, not motions.
We thank all those individual trade union members, and branches – and importantly the wider general public – for their continued work and their active, ongoing support of this campaign. We welcome and encourage the participation of all individual union members and branches who want to work with us to end workfare and sanctions. A motion for Union branches to pass opposing workfare can be found here.