Another successful Workfare Week of Action had a massive response, and grew as the week went on, with people all over the UK organising protests and pickets at workfare exploiters and Job Centres. In Manchester, people picketed the ‘welfare to work’ conference’s lavish dinner at the Hilton. Online actions saw the conference’s twitter feed hashtag #w2w2013 hijacked , causing many delegates and organisations to vent their frustration at being exposed as workfare profiteers. Conference delegates were however sadly not at their best for pushing new ways to profit from poverty: the hotel they were staying in had three unexplained fire alarms go off during the night!
Marks and Spencer became a focus of the UK wide protests after it was revealed that they are involved in workfare on a huge scale, as well as their continued involvement in Scotland where single parents are forced to work in their stores or face sanctions. Shoppers were outraged to hear M&S were using forced unpaid labour. Protests were held inside and outside their stores in Swansea, London, Hastings, Sheffield, Leeds, Glasgow, Brighton and Birmingham. Homebase, who claimed they were ending workfare placements, were also picketed in London after it was discovered that people were working unpaid in the Willesden store.
Importantly, thousands of ‘How to Avoid Workfare’ leaflets were given to people at Job Centres around the country. With a focus on informing people of their rights, numerous welfare infostalls and leafleting sessions at Job Centres were set up and met with a great response. Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty’s action specifically targeted sanctions which are set to reach 1 million for this year. With the intensified threat of sanctions, sharing rights information and showing solidarity with people at Job Centres is a really important way to combat the government’s new hit squads – and to bring down workfare. Groups have made plans to continue such events beyond the Week of Action.
Elsewhere, pressure on the Salvation Army was kept up with a group in London leafleting a Sunday service in order to speak with a shocked congregation about the charity’s involvement with schemes that cause poverty. The week ended with the good news that the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union have joined the fight to actively work with this campaign to stamp out workfare.
Check out the links to action reports and photos from actions across the UK:
[EXPAND Bristol report:]
“Handed out about 250 of your “How to Avoid Workfare” A4’s and chatted to loads of people about their rights, and the wrongs of the workfare scheme.
Got a really amazing response from people, even had folk who had ignored our flyer on the way in, chatting to someone who had taken one inside and so popping out to grab one and chat to us. We were the buzz of the job centre.
Doing the same again today and really recommend this idea to anyone who’s interested in stopping workfare at its source and getting information to people who really need it.”
[EXPAND Hackney, London report:]
“Four of us leafletted the Hackney Job Centre on Mare Street in the beautiful sunshine of Tuesday afternoon and evening. We’d taped a bright pink Boycott Workfare to the pavement outside the entrance, so attracted the attention of passers-by as well as people going in and out of the Job Centre. A couple of cars clocked the banner too and stopped to take the How to Avoid Workfare leaflets we were handing out.
We talked to a lot of people on their way in; several of them said as they exited that they’d been able to use some of the info on the flyer while talking to Job Centre staff. It seems like that would be one reason to do this kind of thing as much as possible – especially since a lot of the people we spoke to don’t have easy access to computers or the internet. More often, we spoke to people who’d been on workfare already, and were extra keen to avoid it a second time; or who were being threatened with it, and wanted more information on how they could refuse it without being sanctioned.
Lots of claimants and ex-claimants told us about their experiences of workfare and sanctions – many had recently been moved from ESA to JSA and were trying to explain things to Job Centre staff who had little understanding of why they’d been on ESA in the first place. A man whose condition meant that if he walked around a lot one day – for whatever purpose – he’d be in pain and have to stay in bed the next, for example; or a man who’d been moved to JSA just after being sanctioned while on ESA, who we were able to help a bit with his appeal since the sanction was based on an administrative error at the Job Centre.
We had a really positive response overall, from claimants and people walking past.
Just like we found at the M&S picket later in the week, it seems there’s a lot of people in Hackney who’d like to be part of a welfare action group. Something to work on, so that next time we’re at the Hackney Job Centre we can invite people to meet up with us somewhere nearby as well as telling them we can help over email.”
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Thanks to everyone who took part. Keep in touch and let us know if we can support your group with future plans and actions. info[at]boycottworkfare.org