Thursday, 16 February 2012

A national day of action against workfare - and beyond

An advert on the Jobcentre Plus website offers a permanent job on the night shift at Tesco. The going rate? JSA plus expenses. Thus has the reality of the government's work programme hit home. More and more people are waking up to what workfare really means for the worst off in society - now it's just a case of doing something about it.

Already, there are plenty of people who do good work on this issue. The Boycott Workfare campaign has scored a considerable victory by getting Sainsbury's to withdraw from the scheme, for example, and momentum is building. The pinnacle of this being the national day of action on Saturday 3rd March, with activists in Liverpool and London leading the way on taking direct action against companies that use workfare. If you are organising an event in your area, let Boycott Workfare know.

This needs to escalate into a full scale offensive against workfare across the country. Liverpool Solidarity Federation are taking forward our own campaign strategy, which has drawn interest and support from other quarters, and I've heard similar plans being mooted elsewhere. The basic lynchpin of the various ideas floating around being that workfare will stop when we make it unprofitable.

Part of this is the consumer boycott, and in response to the public revalation of the extent to which Tesco is involved in workfare their Facebook page has been flooded with people promising to never shop there again. But this has its limitations, not least in that precisely the reason shops like Tesco receive so much custom is that they offer cheap food and at a time of rising prices and stagnant/falling prices more people are inclined simply to go where costs the least. A boycott could never be total, and so something more direct and overt would be needed.

This is where direct action comes in. The national day of action on 3rd March will be about picketing stores involved, encouraging people not to use them or even shutting them down UK Uncut-style depending on what is possible. This will have the effect of both hitting profits and drawing huge publicity to the issue, potentially impacting profits further, in a way that a straight-forward boycott would not. Following from this, campaigns across the country have the potential to escalate and exacerbate this, by making the pressure constant and by spreading it out from the City Centres to the areas of cities where unemployment has hit people the hardest. Certainly, this is what we will look to do in Liverpool.

Workfare is undoubtedly one of the biggest attacks on the working class at present. It will hit the unemployed most obviously, forcing them into effective slave labour. Particularly precarious are those who have been chucked off Incapacity Benefit onto Job Seekers Allowance, the prospect of forced labour only adding to their stresses and the detrimental impact on their health.

But for workers, it will be almost as bad. Free labour paid for by the state is clearly more lucrative to employers than those they have to pay, give time off to, speak with the unions of and respect their duty of care for. Workers' pay and conditions will be drastically undercut because, if you don't take it, they can always get someone to do the job for free. Not to mention that, if you lose your job, the volume of those on the work programme means you're unlikely to get another one soon - putting you into workfare as well.

So, on 3rd March, take part in the national day of action against workfare. Join an action local to you, and if one isn't happening - organise it yourself! Then let's use this great strength of the libertarian workers movement - the decentralised, do-it-yourself nature of the action - to build a campaign of sustained direct action and make workfare bad for business.