Radical political analysis, commentary and discussion in Wales
Dadansoddiad a thrafodaeth radicalaidd o wleidyddiaeth yng Nghymru
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Boycott Workfare at Tesco

Workfare is a government scheme that forces people on benefits to work long hours for big corporations in order to maintain the pittance they depend on so as not to starve or end up on the streets.

Its notoriety came to the fore when an advert appeared on the JobCentre Plus website offering a permanent night shift position for 'JSA+expenses'. Since then, there have been various campaigns and protests aimed at highlighting the scheme's exploitative nature.

On Friday, 24th February 2012 some of South Wales Anarchists headed to Tesco Extra on Western Avenue in Cardiff with placards, banners, guitars and bilingual flyers to protest against the company's involvement.

Earlier in the week, after an enormous amount of public pressure, Tesco made a watery compromise regarding their involvement with a scheme that can only be described as endorsing slave labour. Under 25s are working for as little as £1.78 per hour, while those over 25 receive £2.25 per hour. The Tesco Facebook page had been bombarded with complaints for days, so the company tweaked their involvement in what can only be deemed as a clever PR stunt.

The statement from Tesco makes no mention of job offers or wages for those who are not considered 'young', even though many of the 1500 people that Tesco have already used on this scheme were over 25. No explanation is offered as to what 'satisfactory' means regarding the guarantee of a job offer at the end of the placement. If any of these young people choose to work for a fair wage instead of their benefits are deemed unsatisfactory after the four week trial, they will have to make a fresh claim for Jobseeker's Allowance and Housing Benefit. This could mean no money for weeks and the risk of losing their accommodation. There seem to be no plans to pay 1200 of the 1500 people who have already been forced into placements with Tesco and weren not employed.

The protest had only been outside the main entrance of the supermarket for a few minutes when security guards first appeared. Never having heard of Workfare, when it was explained and they were asked if they would work for a couple of quid an hour, they left us alone. Their colleagues asked us to move our placards as we were 'causing an obstruction' and wanted to know who our point of contact was ('everyone' was the response). Amidst playing, singing and dancing, they said they had had a customer complaint about someone had trying to force a leaflet into their hand. They then disappeared back into the store for a bit before coming out yet again - this time to ask us not to use megaphones. They were informed we would probably turn them down a bit.

We set about engaging with the public, including with someone who was about to be forced onto a Workfare placement. Hardly anyone refused a leaflet, lots of people wanted to know more about it, and we only heard the term 'benefit scroungers' a couple of times. A taxi driver took some leaflets to display in his cab, and some people said they wouldn't shop there again until they completely left the scheme. One lady walked back out of the store announcing she was boycotting Tesco after reading the leaflet, much to the embarrassment of her teenage daughter.

When the manager appeared, he made it clear he wanted us to leave as the leaflets contained the words 'Boycott Tesco'. It was explained that he would have to ask us all individually, and it was unlikely we would be going anywhere unless everyone agreed. After threatening to try and get the police to remove us, he was reminded he didn't actually own the store, and was just an employee who certainly wouldn't work for less than minimum wage (or probably anywhere near it). He claimed his store did not use the Workfare scheme, though when asked if going against Head Office if they told him to offer placements was an option, he didn't directly respond. Given we weren't actually breaking any law and the manager certainly didn't want the police there, we eventually left of our own accord once we ran out of literature.

The list of companies and charities involved is shrinking by the day as they pull out due to ongoing public pressure. There's a national day of action against Workfare on Saturday 3rd March 2012. There are bilingual generic leaflets available for download.