On Saturday morning, as shoppers begun to fill the pavements of the Capital’s busiest shopping street, a small cabal of people – from bearded Socialist Workers to trendy young things nursing hangovers – gathered to name and shame shops which continue to take part in the Government’s workfare schemes. The more nimble among the crowd gave the Metropolitan Police a run for their money as they ducked and dived their way down Oxford Street, shutting down shops as they went. As the rest of the group caught up each time and the police hurled people out of Pizza Hut and McDonalds, chants of ‘If you don’t pay your staff – We’ll shut you down’ filled the air. The gathering photographers and reporters, keen to capture the protests which followed a Government u-turn on workfare earlier last week, were treated to a rather succesful day on the streets.
But, while we might pat ourselves on the back for blockading a Holiday Inn for ten minutes, we must not forget that the battle is not yet won. People are still being compelled to work for their benefits. In Nottingham, where I spent six months as a community worker, men in their forties were forced to work in factories, stacking pallets or vacuum packing beauty products, for nothing more than their giro. If they refused to go to work they risked losing the money which allowed them to put food on the table. The demeaning process of keeping their bus tickets, to claim back a few pounds from the private company running the scheme – because their dole money wouldn’t stretch to paying their fares – did little to boost the morale of these men who hadn’t had jobs in years. At the end of the placements they were referred back to the job centre. No job, not even an interview.
The government may have binned one of the workfare schemes but, according to Boycott Workfare, four schemes still remain. Companies up and down the country continue to employ people for nothing more than their benefits and the government continue to promote workfare as a way to cut unemployment.
Clearly the fight must go on. You can take action here.