Up to 20 people took part in the name and shame tour on Saturday of some of the biggest names on our high street including McDonalds, Primark and Top shop organised by Youth Fight for Jobs. Protestors, including members of the WSM and the Socialist Party, visited these high street stores during the busy shopping day giving speeches and handing out leaflets to members of the public, to the chants of ’No Pay no Way’.
You may of thought that unemployed meant being forced to work full time in return for barely enough for survival was confined to the novels of Charles Dickens, set in the distant past of the Victorian era. But now as millions of us are searching for work, companies are hoping to make profit by the use of modern day slavery and super-exploitation.
The idea of ‘welfare to work’ is nothing new and can be traced to the smashing of ‘social consensus’ by the vicious class war under neo-liberalism in the last two decades. In November 2011, the Prime Minister's Office announced proposals under which Jobseeker's Allowance claimants who haven’t found a job once they have been through a work programme will do a 26 week un paid placement in the community for 30 hours a week. According to The Guardian, under the Government's Community Action Programme people who have been out of work for a number of years "must work for six months unpaid, including at profit-making businesses, in order to keep their benefits".
These developments followed years of concern and discussion by people both for and against such similar schemes under the Labour Government. In 1999, the UK charity Child Poverty Action Group expressed concern that a government announcement that single parents and the disabled may have to attend repeated interviews for jobs under threat of losing benefits was "a step towards a US-style workfare system". The Social Security Secretary at the time, Alistair Darling, described the plan as "harsh, but justifiable", claiming that it would help address the "poverty of expectation" of many people on benefits. Lord Digby Jones, former Minister of State for Trade and Investment, said in April 2010 that Britain needs to adopt American-style workfare.
Since the public backlash a few weeks ago and negative media publicity several corporations such as Tescos have attempted to take the moral high ground by announcing plans to offer permanent contracts and paid positions at the end. But don’t be fooled because workfare has not been scrapped. The fight must go until these exploitative schemes including Steps to work which undercut the rights and conditions of all workers is scrapped.
These workfare schemes should not be taken in isolation against a backdrop of continuing cuts to jobs and services along with a long-term re-structuring of the labour market to suit the interests and demands of capital. We only need to remember similar programmes such as the ‘New Deal’ and ‘welfare to work’ under the previous Labour Government continuing the crusade of neo-liberalism.
The government is clearly feeling the pressure due to the negative publicity and street protests. The option of work experience should be voluntary and we need to fight for a living wage. We need to build upon this momentum and take the next step in terms of building a mass boycott against ’slave labour’ in our communities and workplaces. The defeat of the Poll Tax and introduction of water charges here provides a glimpse of what is possible if we stand together in solidarity because we are the solution.
Useful article on Dole autonomy versus the re-imposition of work: analysis of the current tendency to workfare in the UK http://libcom.org/library/dole-autonomy-aufheben
Also check out http://www.boycottworkfare.org for more info on these welfare to work schemes and what you can do.