Saturday, 29 September 2012

Combat Workfare Returns to Poundland

A solid group of claimants, anarchists and activists continued to pile up the pressure on workfare profiteers Poundland and Tesco this weekend, with pickets set up at city centre stores in Liverpool. By stressing the purpose of a (retailer) picket line to shoppers, we were able to effectively turn away large numbers of people heading for poverty exploiters Poundland.

The Willenhall-based discount chain had the audacity to restart their ‘voluntary’ workfare scheme the day after the High Court rejected* claims that the government’s work schemes amounted to forced labour. What Poundland, and 100’s of other retailers, fully understand is working 30 hours a week for no wage is free labour and sourcing that labour through the state-as-employer guarantees that labour to be disciplined, indirectly, by the threat of benefit sanctions. Poundland calling the scheme voluntary makes no difference to the underlying exploitation the scheme is founded on.

For those who, bizarrely, support the idea of workfare, Public Interest Lawyers, who represented Cait Reilly in the High Court, have this to say on the idea of working for your benefits:

It is paid for one specific (and obvious) purpose – to support people whilst they seek employment.  It is not remuneration for work, and even if it were it would mean that people on Back to Work schemes would be getting paid as little as £1.78 per hour, often whilst working for some of our biggest retailers.

Whilst speaking with people about Poundland, it was brought to our attention that Marks and Spencer have also been dipping into the workfare labour pool. A shopper let on to us that her son has been working at M&S unwaged, as part of the fraud-ridden government work schemes. This backs up recent doubts over M&S’ Marks and Start programme that allegedly ‘helps’ the homeless, lone parents, young people and the long-term unemployed back to work by teaching them how to stack shelves. Yes, the hallowed work ethic is re-installed in the marginalized by forcing them to repeat the same actions over-and-over again as part of a bus fare & butty placement. Loyal customers will, understandably, be horrified to learn M&S is exploiting the unemployed, and Combat Workfare will do everything it can to let as many people know that their pre-packaged meals come with a forced labour price tag.

Our second target was State favorites Tesco who, despite making noises about withdrawing from workfare programmes, maintain their exploitation of the unemployed through veiled work ‘placement’ and ‘experience’ schemes. We gave out hundreds of leaflets at both pickets, informing people of the various workfare schemes that claimants can be subjected to and, as always, there was a great response from the public.

We cannot let these companies get away with the exploitation of the unemployed and we must counter the humiliating propaganda that's accompanying the rolling out of workfare across the country. Any of us could be subjected to forced unpaid work through the government's back to work schemes, so it's in the interest of all of us that we fight back. At the end of the day, workfare is an attack on the work and welfare of the unemployed and employed. It not only provides a source of cheap labour to profit-making companies, but it also undemines the pay and conditons of those already in paid work.

More actions announced over the next few days.

*The High Court ruling on the government’s workfare schemes is to be challenged

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Combat Workfare Pickets Poundland

Compact Combat Workfare

A small, determined group of Anarchists/Activists set up outside Poundland in Liverpool, today, to keep up the pressure on a company practically flaunting their use of exploited, free labour. We targeted Poundland customers exiting and entering the store, and most were bemused to find out what Poundland have been up to under the radar. As a result of our leafleting, the customers we spoke to refused to shop at Poundland until they could be assured the low-budget exploiters had exited the Government’s macabre Workfare scheme. Poundland customer boycotts had also been buttressed by recent revelations that you can actually get better deals, for your pound, elsewhere on the high street. Shocker!

We had some excellent discussions with people about workfare, austerity and the depression/recession that is obscuring the general attack on the working classes. More Combat Workfare action against Poundland on the way:

Monday, 17 September 2012

Workfare Giants Training Unemployed During 'Skills for Work Week'

All this week, companies who’ve been caught out using workfare will be training the unemployed as part of a ‘skills for work week’ called Feeding Britain’s Future. This dubious racket has been set up by food and grocery experts IGD who’ve enlisted the services of supermarket giants, such as Tesco & ASDA, to give “10,000 young people access to real working environments and a feel for what it’s like in the food industry.”

Most people can tell you what it’s like working in the food industry without you having to waste a week finding out. It’s shit: shit hours, shit pay, shit benefits and shit protection. Alas, your Jobcentre Plus adviser has probably inveigled you into attending a useless “skills class” at your local supermarket on the basis that it will give you much needed experience that will encourage employers to hire you, and then potentially fire you in favour of the complimentary labour they could’ve squeezed out of you whilst you were unemployed.

That’s what basically happened at 2 Sisters Food Group  —signed up to Feeding Britain’s Future—, in the schnews recently for sacking 350 employees at their Leicestershire pie and pizza factory and then tethering 100 unemployed, to what Jobecentre Plus described as ‘pre-employment training’, at their Nottingham Pizza Factory —the pseudo-carrot being a guaranteed job interview at the end of the DWP sanction stick.

Certainly, there will be well-intentioned floor staff willing to show you a trick or two over the next few days, but the overarching absurdity of the ‘skills for work week’ is that companies who are ‘opening their doors’ to teach you about “responsibilities and expectations in the workplace”, and give you the “chance to work” in their stores, would very much like to obtain your labour power, your ability to work, for as close to zero as they can get it. When it comes to the food-industry’s ‘responsibilities and expectations’ they can be reduced, as with any other industry, to the simple requirement to 'profit-from' —aided and abetted by the corridors of power that represent government.

Tesco, Asda, 2 Sisters Food Group and 100’s of other retailers have been snatching-up unpaid workers since the inception of the Condem Work Programme and its predecessor back-to-work-programme under the Labour government. Direct action against companies who use workfare has resulted in several withdrawing from the government schemes. We must keep up the pressure on the profiteers and providers who will treat us with a contempt in-built into their constitutions. Our material interests are in direct opposition to that of the companies who seek to exploit us, and it is within this struggle, against our exploitation, that we can begin to re-locate the notion of what work should be, and not some suffocating illusion imposed on us by the state & business.

Feeding Britain's Future runs from the 17th - 21st September. You can view their website at and their twitter is @fbf_uk

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Workfare Profiteers to Crash Bolton Jobs Fair

Workfare profiteers

This coming Thursday Bolton College is hosting a Jobs and Skills Fair on their Dean Road campus and, lo-and-behold, they’ve allowed a trio of workfare profiteers to exhibit at the fair. SERCO, Holiday Inn and workfare charity Barnardo's will be touting their wares to job-hungry Boltonians with a wink and a smile, no doubt making great effort to keep schtum about their complicity in the exploitation of the unemployed.

SERCO not only profit from lucrative Work Programme contracts, but have also been involved in numerous human rights abuses of detainees in their Immigration Removal Centres (IRC’s). In 2010, 84 women went on hunger strike in protest at their mistreatment by Serco security guards:

“70 women were locked in a corridor for up to eight hours without access to food, water, toilet or medical care. Many collapsed and about 20, who tried to climb out of the windows, were beaten up and taken into isolation cells.”

In 2012, Serco security guards in detention centres in Australia were trained to:

“…kick, punch and jab their fingers into detainee limbs and ‘pressure points’ to render them motionless.”

Detainees at Villawood Dention Centre, Australia, protesting over conditions

Considering Serco’s appalling abuse of asylum seekers —more accounts can be viewed here— you would’ve thought Bolton College had the wherewithal to check what companies they’re allowing onto their campus?

Barnardo's, as part of their involvement in the failing Work Programme, have been forcing their unemployed cohort (DWP slang for reserve army of labour) into KFC restaurants in order to gain “vital skills for the workplace.” Barnardo's argue they're only involved in voluntary work experience, but as Boycott Workfare points out Barnardo's “deliver the mandatory Work Programme and are complicit in the sanctions process.”

Security firm SERCO and do-gooder charity Barnardo's have another thing in common: they’re both in cahoots with the UK Border Agency. SERCO assist the UK government with its racist immigration policy —see London NoBorders for more info— and Barnardo's provide suspect ‘welfare provisions’ to children harmfully detained.

As Open Democracy explains:

“Given that medical evidence has demonstrated that even short periods of detention can cause significant harm to children—the fact that a leading children’s charity [Barnardo's] is complicit in keeping children detained at Pease Pottage for up to a week is an absolutely disgrace, and vindicates all the warnings that End Child Detention Now and fellow campaign groups have made about the collaboration of charities with the UK Border Agency.”

Not only do we have highly questionable companies trying to recruit workers into shit jobs, but these same companies, specifically SERCO and Barnardo's, are exploiting unemployed workers whilst committing human rights abuses against migrant families.

Holiday Inn, due to direct action by Boycott Workfare in March, publicly announced their withdrawal from workfare, but there are suggestions that they’re still using forced unpaid workers in their hotels, according to Boycott Workfare’s list of workfare providers.

It’s not just Bolton College who should be taking a serious look at who they’re rubbing shoulders with: Bolton Council, Bolton at Home and the University of Bolton are all partners of the Bolton Jobs and Skills Fair.

And last but not least, what kind of jobs fair would this be if we didn’t have our good friends Jobcentre Plus to cast a watchful eye over proceedings. Yes, Jobcentre Plus, tendril of the Department for Work and Pensions, are also partnering the event and, hysterically, in their partner introduction describe themselves as an organisation that “aim[s] to tackle poverty”.

Bolton Jobs and Skills Fair 2012 takes place this Thursday, 20th September, at Bolton College, Dean Road Campus. If you're in or from Bolton and free on Thursday, it's highly recommended you pay this trio of scumbags a visit and give them some hella grief. 

Why not drop them a tweet at:


or leave a comment on their Facebook pages: 

Bolton College
For more more information on the Boycott Workfare Campaign visit:

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Immigration, Anarchism, and the Exploited Worker: Combat Workfare Joins the National Day of Action Against Workfare Charities

As part of a national day of action against charities that use workfare, Combat Workfare gathered in Liverpool City Centre on the 8th September to keep up the pressure on charities and high street retailers who continue to unashamedly exploit claimants as a source of complimentary labour, courtesy of the heinous Department for Work and Pensions.

Chandlery killers Poundland were the first to be picketed, and with good cause: days after the high court ruled the government’s workfare schemes didn’t contravene Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights, Poundland started shouting their mouths off in the press about resuming their ‘work placement scheme’. So, naturally, Combat Workfare were on hand to notify Poundland customers of Poundland’s exploitation of claimants and simultaneously upset the predictable rush of city-centre security busting for a confrontation after a sneaky line of coke behind John Lewis.

Combat Workfare picket Poundland
The majority of Poundland customers (& passers-by) were, and are, sympathetic-to and in solidarity-with anti-workfare campaigns and those subjected to workfare. Unfortunately, there is an undercurrent of racist disinformation that is, time-after-time, regurgitated without consideration, and serves no other purpose but to divert attention away from the real causes of unemployment. Therefore, steps must be taken on future actions to debunk the myths surrounding Immigration and the alleged ‘association’ between immigration and unemployment, which right-wing flarfs take great pleasure in seeing people absorb, and certain people take great comfort in having someone to blame for the phenomenon of —capitalist necessity for— unemployment.

Disinformation also swirls around the word ‘Anarchist’, or most words prefixed by Anarch-, to the extent that people, in general, associate the word with chaos and destruction, as evidenced at the Poundland picket by a health worker walking past, supportive of the picket but ‘uncomfortable’ with the word Anarchist, which he recommended should be removed from a banner to avoid scaring people. Hmmf! “Anarchism has had so much negative PR that people are closed off before they give themselves a chance to listen to what activists are saying” points out Israeli activist Uri Gordon; fortunately, there are plenty of people who know what Anarchism really stands for and are more than willing to contribute to the neutralisation of “negative PR” that intentionally stifles a critical understanding of the society we exist in.

Leaving Poundland with taunts of “We’ll be back!” Combat Workfare moved on to the British Heart Foundation (BHF), who currently exploit claimants to staff their charity shops alongside what they describe as “pure volunteers”. There is clearly a certain sensitivity surrounding picketing a charity shop, particularly if people passing by are not quickly informed as to the reason for the picket, so we were quick to keep up a stream of announcements via loud haler and quick to leaflet and engage people about BHF’s blatant use of workfare. The response was surprisingly positive, with BHF customers refusing to shop at the Liverpool branch until the charity had withdrawn from the workfare schemes. The British Heart Foundation is part of a cadre of UK charities who’ve decided it’s okay to accept claimants forced into Mandatory Work Activity and into unpaid work, so long as it doesn’t affect their profit and credibility. But, they cannot hide behind their sacred shield of charity for much longer, as they take donations from people with one-hand and sign exploitative contracts with the Department for Work and Pensions with the other. The jig is up and the BHF are starting to look more and more like a capitalist racket (were they ever anything else?) than a do-gooder charity.
Combat Workfare picket British Heart Foundation
Finally, Combat Workfare targeted workfare profiteers Argos, who continue to exploit claimants as if it’s their duty. Combat Workfare unfurled banners and began leafleting people about Argos and their exploitation of workers, be they employed or unemployed. Again, the response from people was overwhelmingly positive and we will continue to campaign against Argos and any other racketeers who consider the exploitation of claimants the ‘status quo’.

Workfare is part of a broader attack on the welfare and work of people in and out of work. Not only is workfare supplying a free source of labour to profit-making companies, it undermines the pay and conditions of those already in work, whilst immiserating the conditions of those out of work. Several narratives are being used to smother any coherent response from the working classes, for example the “benefit scrounger” narrative, used to pit the employed against the unemployed; and the immigration myths, mentioned above, used to deflect attention away from the capitalist causes of unemployment. We must continue to fight this dividing propaganda along with the companies and institutions who seek to further atomise the working classes.

Next Combat Workfare is on the 22nd September. More info here: