Workfare walk of shame

Author: Notts IMC + One of Autonomous Notts
Tags: work workfare

On Saturday, a group of anti-workfare activists took to the streets of Nottingham to picket some of the corporate workfare profiteers and to highlight why workfare is such a dangerous idea. They visited Burton, Barnardo’s, Primark, Greggs and Superdrug with a banner, sound system and flyers. Campaigners say that workfare, when unemployed people are forced to work for their benefits, is an attack on the unemployed and also against workers, whose paid work is undermined.

Newswire: Workfare walk of shame in Nottingham (Report) | Workfare walk of shame in Nottingham (Pics) | Nottingham Pizza Factory - From work to workfare

Previous features: Mayday Workfare Protests | Workfare : Forced Labour Protest in Nottingham

Report from One of Autonomous Nottingham

Today a group of anti-workfare activists took to the streets of Nottingham to picket some of the corporate workfare profiteers and to highlight why workfare is such a dangerous idea. We visited Burton, Barnardo’s, Primark, Greggs and Superdrug before we got through all of our leaflets and decided to call it a day. On the whole, the public responded positively to our message including several who agreed to boycott particular shops as a result of getting a flyer.

Workfare is the name given to various government programmes that force benefit claimants to work full-time jobs just to get their dole money. Various companies have signed up to get this very attractive (for them) workers that don’t have to be paid. It is obviously bad for the unemployed because they are being exploited and don’t get any reward, but it is also bad for paid workers who might be replaced by free labour from the Job Centre.

We met at the left lion in Market Square and were sent off with an anti-workfare speech from a local anti-austerity campaigner who had a stall. Despite the somewhat pro-state slant of his words, it was good to receive some solidarity.

We were well equipped with a sound system in a pushchair pumping out revolutionary hip hop and our “Workfare ain’t fair” banner as well as a stack of fliers. We walked and wheeled across the square to our first stop, Burtons. Burtons is part of notorious tax dodger Philip Green’s Arcadia group, which has a policy of using workfare. The Burtons management immediately threw a massive tantrum, shutting up all but one of the doors to the shop and then standing in the remaining one snarling at us and chuntering on about how they had nothing to do with workfare and spent their whole days helping the sick and needy by giving them free suits, etc. All they managed to do was make their shop very unwelcoming for the time that we were there.

Next stop was the Barnardo’s charity shop a few doors up. Barnardo’s is one of many high street charities which is supplementing their volunteers with forced labour from the Job Centre. The workers were, perhaps unsurprisingly, much more sympathetic to and interested in our protest and read our leaflets. Some PCSOs came along to ask whether we were a peaceful protest and what time we were leaving so they could “update the control centre”. When they went in to let the staff know we weren’t dangerous psychopaths, we slipped off to Primark.

Primark was a bit mental. There were just too many people rushing in and out of those doors. We didn’t stay long.

Next stop was Greggs on Clumber Street. There was more space to stop and have decent interactions with people and people had time to read our leaflets in the queue. One man went in taking a leaflet and then emerged a few minutes later without having bought anything thanking us all for letting him know about Greggs’ exploitative practices. Another man took a leaflet and said “I won’t be buying anything in there then” and a group of kids in hoodies tutted a bit and then were overheard saying they wouldn’t be going in again.

For our last stop we moved over to Superdrug on the other side of the road and gave out the last of our leaflets. One man stopped to have a conversation with me about how he’d seen this coming with the New Deal and previous government attacks on the unemployed and how his son was involved in anti-workfare campaigning in Plymouth. “Why aren’t there more of you?” he asked.

We will back and we hope that next time more people will join us. There are plenty of shops on our list that we didn’t get to visit today, including Wilkinsons, Argos, Poundland, Miss Selfridge and Tescos. We know that anti-workfare campaigning is working: earlier in the year Holland & Barrett pulled out of workfare after sustained, nationnwide pickets of its stores. We just need to keep up the pressure.

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