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:

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