Presented by Edinburgh Branch Communications Officer.
On 21/3/16 at Quaker Meeting House for the event Fighting to live and winning, an event co-organised with Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty (ECAP) and with Lynne Friedli from Boycott Workfare also presenting .
Tonight I’ve been asked by the Edinburgh IWW to speak on the subject of workfare and it’s relationship to work. The IWW has historically recognised the relationship between employed and the unemployed and has organised the unemployed, the homeless and the drifter.
What is clear is that workfare is an attack not only on the unemployed and disabled, but also on those who are waged workers as well.
The employing class known fine well that by attacking the unemployed and disabled they discipline the waged workers by a rule of fear.
Workfare through its various schemes ,like Community Work Programme(CWP), by forcing the unemployed to work for their benefits acts to undermine the minimum wage and hard fought for conditions.
The employing class has quickly come to understand that its easier and cheaper for them to make use of workfare conscripts sent to them by the DWP through parasitic organisations like Learn Direct than to actually pay workers a decent wage. This has happened in 2012 with Argos in Bristol as well as in Shoezone, Asda and elsewhere.
The worst case was in September 2012, when a company called 2 Sisters Food Group sacked 350 workers at its plant in Leiceister and moved to Nottingham then taking on 100 workfare conscripts.
The use of workfare has been increasing over a number of years and this is having a knock on effect on waged workers.
Warren Clark in an article for Red Pepper in 2013 writes that,
“‘Mandatory work activity’, which compels people to work without pay for 30 hours a week for four weeks, has been expanded to 70,000 placements a year, despite Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) research showing that it had ‘zero effect’ on peoples chances of finding work. The so-called ‘work experience scheme’, eight-week placements mainly in the private sector, is expected to put 250,000 people to work without pay over the next three years. The government refuses to say how many of the 850,000 people sent on the ‘work programme’ have also been forced to work for free. With five other workfare schemes also in operation, it all adds up to workfare replacing paid jobs and driving down wages.”
The bosses offer us stark choices : low wages and poor conditions , unemployment and the high likelihood of sanctions and workfare or poverty and homelessness. We recognise that in today’s society, capitalist society whether you are in work or unemployed you are still exploited forced to take what is given and pressured to not demand anything better.
The bosses and especially the DWP when it comes to workfare like to make a point of saying how these are choices, that these are voluntary but if we look at the reality of the lives of peoples with these choices you have to ask yourself just how voluntary are these choices under the threat of destitution or suffering?
So you might wonder what can we do about workfare?
The Edinburgh IWW has stood with our friends in ECAP and other groups in opposition to Workfare and sanctions gladly taking part in protests and direct action like pickets or blockades to send the message that these attacks on the working class including the disabled and unemployed will not be allowed to continue unopposed.
The Edinburgh IWW has been with ECAP repeatedly as we have picketed and shut down numerous shops of the homophobic supposed charity the Salvation Army – a charity which is neither an army nor saves but apparently an organisation which holds the Bible in one hand and the DWP’s filthy money in another. The Salvation army is utterly unrepentant in its love of workfare.
And the IWW having historic bad blood with the organisation is unsurprised that the organisation is no better in present times than in its past.
The IWW recognises that since the Thatcher’s attack on the trade unions in the 80s and now the Tories trade union bill, trade union resistance is harder than ever. But the IWW was born in hard circumstances and forged in the fires of struggle. We understand that more than ever work is precarious- that short term, flexible or zero hour contracts are more and more becoming the norm. That is not a coincidence but an attempt by the capitalist class to re-organize the working class in a way so that we are easier to isolate and attack. There are some examples of workplaces where it was said it would be difficult if not impossible to organize the workers. Yet it has happened. One great example that comes to mind is Mcdonalds Workers Resistance, an industry which has high turnover, where people are constantly coming and going.
Workfare is slowly being defeated by direct action and a whole collection of charities and organisations have pulled out which is led to the creation of the Keep Volunteering voluntary pledge, an agreement by charities and companies that they oppose workfare and will not be involved in it. City of Edinburgh council is one such employer. Though unsurprisingly we’ve found that they’ve rarely stuck to that pledge.
If we organize together from the grassroots not waiting for action from politicians or hoping for salvation from the ballot box we can defeat workfare together and move to overturn exploitation and oppression eventually building a new world from the ashes of this old one.
In the IWW the preamble of our constitution states, the employing class and the working class have nothing in common.
"The IWW is a grassroots anti-capitalist trade union founded in 1905 in the US. We are independent from any political party and believe that ordinary people should fight back against exploitation and oppression to collectively run their own lives and ultimately to collectively manage society in a world without bosses , without capitalism. A society that puts people before profit "