Boycott Workfare report that the Communication Workers' Union is effectively supporting workfare. They have issued a letter to branches, ensuring them that a job placement scheme for unemployed 16-18 year olds has the union's full support. This is not only a betrayal of the fight against workfare, but puts CWU members in considerable jeopardy.
The letter to branches includes the following joint statement;
Royal Mail has committed to participate in a new government initiative to offer young people the opportunity to gain valuable work experience within a business, which will have a positive impact upon their confidence, their employability and their future prospects. Following full consultation on the detail of the initiative the CWU are pleased to support the Royal Mail Work Experience Programme and would encourage our representatives and members to ensure that the Work Experience participants placement with Royal Mail is a positive experience that will reconnect them to the world of work.Such a position shouldn't come as a surprise to most, given that the role of union officialdom isn't to support the class struggle against capitalism but to mediate it. However, even by the standards of union bureaucrats, it is a particularly horrendous decision. Not to mention short-sighted in terms of even just the union's own interests.
As Johnny Void points out;
Reports have already been received of workfare candidates at ASDA being forced to work on Christmas and New Year’s Eve for no pay whilst waged workers were sent home. The creation of a two tier workforce, with one group of workers having no employment rights or pay, should not just trouble the consciences of union leaders.Boycott Workfare are asking people to contact the CWU - Deputy General Secretary Dave Ward's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org - and urge them to reconsider their position. Work Experience is a compulsory scheme, with young people subject to sanctions if they don't take part. It is effectively forced labour, and will only serve to undercut and undermine the terms and conditions that CWU workers have fought for over the years.
With Royal Mail privatisation on the agenda this year industrial action seems inevitable. Workfare staff may find themselves in the unenviable position of being forced into scabbing or face dismissal without even the safety net of benefits. This is the thin end of the wedge that could ultimately be used to break any strike action by the CWU.
Already workfare staff have been spotted on the London transport network, presumably in an effort to quieten public concern about unstaffed stations due to station staff being laid off. CWU members, who themselves may face redundancy, must resist this assault on working conditions at the Royal Mail. Workfare will doubtlessly be used to justify lay offs, undermine industrial action and in the long term lead to lower pay and poorer working conditions across the Royal Mail.
Young people need and deserve support with beginning a career at the Royal Mail should they choose to do so. However these positions should come with a living wage and full Trade Union rights. Whilst the CWU has said that all Workfare placements will be introduced to the role of the Union in the workplace, this is of cold comfort when even if they join, they will face crippling poverty and immediate dismissal should they fail to cross a picket line.
This is not the first time that a union leadership has stood with the bosses on workfare. The GMB previously supported the project, until a mass outcry forced it into retracting its position. The same needs to happen with the CWU now, and every union leadership that dares take such a stance.