Demonstrators shut down workfare contractor Learndirect, as the company cancelled its session for jobseekers forced onto the government’s compulsory work-for-your-benefits programmes. Learndirect’s office in Conference House, Morrison Street was besieged by around 60 protesters denouncing the slave labour schemes. Learndirect are owned by giant private equity firm LDC, in turn part of Lloyds Banking Group, and are providers for both the Community Work Placements and Mandatory Work Activity schemes.
Employees from Zion Security were brought in especially to guard the building and police attended. The large Regus business centre housing Learndirect saw normal comings and goings virtually grind to a halt. When demonstrators discovered a few visitors were sneaking in the back entrance, we set up a picket there too, and two cars were blockaded.
Demo organisers Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty and supporters from the capital were joined by contingents from Dundee Against Welfare Sanctions, Glasgow Anarchist Collective. and Scottish Unemployed Workers’ Network Speakers explained that the workfare schemes not only exploit the jobseekers and disabled claimants forced to labour for nothing, they also attacked the wages and conditions of all workers.
The speakers were upbeat: “We are winning the battle against workfare.” Over 400 charities have declared they wish to “keep volunteering voluntary” and are boycotting all workfare schemes – including the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Edinburgh Volunteer Centre, Shelter and Christian Aid. A member of Voluntary Action Scotland picked up campaign material to take back to a nearby conference of charities and NGO’s. Cancer Research UK, after being approached by ECAP, recently told Learndirect they no longer wanted any of their workfare placements.
NEVER FACE THEM ALONE
The demo lasted over two hours and the Rhythms of Resistance samba band raised enthusiasm between speeches. A member of ECAP urged claimants facing harassment and sanctions at the Jobcentre or being subjected to disability benefits examinations to take along a friend or adviser for support. “This is your right, never face them alone.” Dundee Against Welfare Sanctions revealed the harsh choice facing many claimants they meet – pay for heating or pay for eating.
Speakers were clear that workfare was an intrinsic part of the government’s wider austerity programme. “While handing out tax cuts to the better-off, the government are waging war on the poor,” said ECAP spokeswoman Esther MacDonald. “Workfare, sanctions, attacks on the disabled and benefits cuts are all part of the state campaign to drive down the cost of labour so companies can make more profits. We call on everyone, in or out of employment, to take a stand against policies which are robbing the poor to make the rich even richer.”
Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty distributed around 500 copies of a leaflet SLAVEDIRECT, which, as this extract shows, condemned not only workfare but also wage slavery:
“”Work makes you free” declared the Nazis, a view echoed by most politicians today. Let’s nail this lie. Employment – working for a boss – equals exploitation. If workplaces were run by their workers, in a society geared to human need, then work could be an expression of creativity. Instead today the bosses are using the crisis of the capitalist profit system to intensify exploitation, inside and outside the workplace.”
The Edinburgh action was part of a Britain-wide week of action against workfare, with demonstrations and on-line actions – on the same day in London the Haringey Solidarity Group and Boycott Workfare occupied workfare provider Urban Futures.