Saturday the 13th December 2014 was a busy day for the Bristol local, as they took on workfare in Bristol and poverty pay in Swindon.
Members of Bristol Solidarity Federation turned out of a roving anti-workfare action in Bristol, responding to a callout from our friends Bristol Anarchist Federation. Around 30 people, many dressed as santa and belting out carols with revolutionary and anti-workfare lyrics held a noisy action in central Bristol calling on (and in one case, briefly invading) well known workfare users such as Poundland, Savers, M&S and Primark.
Trailed by a sole policevan and the obligatory (and lonely) Police Liason Officer, the demo wound its way through the centre, distributing hundreds of leaflets to a generally supportive public.
Behind the santa costumes and mince pies though, was a serious message. Workfare is a scheme which forces unemployed workers to undertake free labour or face losing benefits. At the same time as exploiting this source of free labour, companies are also laying off waged employees as they realise they can get the same work for free under the guise of ‘training’. In one recent example, a young unemployed worker unsucessfully applied and was turned down for the same job several times, before being forced into the same job for no pay through workfare!
Past experience has shown that companies who exploit workfare don’t like their dirty little secret getting out, and many have pulled out of the scheme after becoming the focus of campaigners. So, santa costume or not, it’s always worth standing up against modern day slave labour and putting on a demo or campaign in your town or workplace. For more info, check out boycottworkfare.org.uk
In an unrelated protest earlier in the day, SolFed members in Swindon attended a picket against M&S, who not only use workfare, but also use a legal loophole known as the ‘Swedish derogation’ to pay their agency warehouse workers £2 an hour less than directley employed staff. After a callout from the GMB union who represent M&S agency warehouse workers in Swindon, activists gathered outside (and inside) the central M&S. Hundreds of leaflets were given out, and plans have been made to return next Saturday. The picket was very well supported by shoppers and staff, as well as by a couple of directly employed M&S warehouse workers we bumped into, who told us that the mood amongst workers in the warehouse is to fight for equal pay for all.