Anti workfare demonstrators closed down two Edinburgh charity shops involved in the government’s exploiting workfare schemes on Saturday 31st January. Protestors blockaded the entrance to the large Salvation Army shop on Earl Grey Street with a huge banner: IF YOU EXPLOIT US WE WILL SHUT YOU DOWN. For two hours the shop was virtually empty.
The action then switched to the DEBRA charity shop on Marchmont Crescent, another user of the compulsory “work-for-your-benefits” schemes. Demonstrators briefly occupied the shop, then completely blockaded it, the closure completed by the manager bolting shut the wooden door. Simultaneously protestors besieged the Salvation Army shop in Broughty Ferry, by Dundee.
Half a dozen police were waiting for the demonstrators at the Salvation Army but were unable to break the blockade by around 40 protestors. Unity between the sick and disabled, the unemployed and workers was shown by the banners from Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty, the Industrial Workers of the World and Black Triangle, displayed alongside placards proclaiming NO WORKFARE – NO SANCTIONS – NO AUSTERITY, and STUFF WORKFARE : NO WAGE SLAVERY : NO DOLE SLAVERY.
“Shut down the Salvation Army workhouse” was the cry from the megaphone, and speeches and chants emphasised that the battle against workfare was part of the wider international class struggle against capitalism. Around 500 leaflets were distributed, declaring “Workfare undermines all workers’ wages and conditions and is an attack on waged and unwaged alike.”
SUPPORT FROM PASSERS-BY
Many passers-by expressed support, one man explaining that his partner, who could only walk with the aid of a stick, was recently told she had to report to the Salvation Army for forced labour, or lose her benefits. The Salvation Army uses the free labour of unemployed people compelled to work for their benefits on the Mandatory Work Activity scheme, run locally by Learndirect. It also is a major player in the Work Programme, whereby even sick and disabled people can be forced to work for nothing or face having their disability benefits cut. This action is the latest in a series of demos against the Salvation Army – last year local shop managers claimed they no longer participated in Mandatory Work Activity but in the last few weeks claimants have revealed to ECAP that the Sally Army are indeed still involved.
The demonstrators targetted DEBRA as claimants have told ECAP about their use of Mandatory Work Activity, run by Learndirect. Protestors blockaded their Stockbridge shop in December, after which DEBRA promised to discuss the issue at their UK-wide Senior Management Team. However the DEBRA bosses merely re-iterated their weak excuses for participating in the exploiting schemes. Now they know – if you exploit us, we will shut you down.
Esther McDonald of ECAP said: “We think the action was very successful. We urge all claimants to contact us and get involved in resisting workfare, sanctions, the attacks on sick and disabled claimants and the whole disgusting war on the poor. If every workfare placement was met by even a small demo then workfare could not continue. Waged or unwaged, we are all under attack and need to resist together. Collective direct action can make austerity unworkable.”
Saturday shoppers in Broughty Ferry were met with a picket outside the Salvation Army shop. Scottish Unemployed Workers’ Network activists handed out hundreds of leaflets explaining that the Salvation Army uses people who are unemployed and are forced to work for no pay or lose their benefits. Alongside ‘end slave labour’ and similar slogans, placards included biblical texts such as ‘the labourer is worthy of his reward’ (1 Timothy 5:18)
Sarah Glynn, secretary of the SUWN, explained :‘Many big employers have been shamed into stopping this exploitation and over 500 charities have signed an agreement to ‘Keep Volunteering Voluntary’ and not participate in Government workfare schemes. But so far the Salvation Army seems happy to go on exploiting the very people they were set up to help. The SUWN is planning further protests in front of the Salvation Army and other exploiters of forced labour …”
The Edinburgh demos were organised by ECAP and the IWW :
IWW www.iww.org.uk firstname.lastname@example.org
Dundee protest (Scottish Unemployed Workers Network facebook)
Actions against workfare are happening round Britain – see www.boycottworkfare.org
This right was attacked by managers at Arbroath Job Centre who on 29 January called the police to arrest a Scottish Unemployed Workers Network activist accompanying a claimant. Solidarity demo at Arbroath Job Centre 5th February at 1pm. More info at https://www.facebook.com/scottishunemployedworkersnetwork
Tell Debra and the Salvation Army that they should keep volunteering voluntary and pull out of workfare –
Reblogged from our friends at Edinburgh Coalition against Poverty (ECAP).