A small victory in the campaign against Workfare! But what now?


7:59 pm - February 29th 2012

by Sunny Hundal    


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In the end, all the angry gnashing of teeth by Telegraph and Daily Mail columnists did nothing to stop Chris Grayling being forced into a humiliating u-turn today.

Their calls for big companies to “get a backbone” fell on deaf ears as it turned out they preferred avoiding damage to their reputations.

Two questions now arise: will the government change its approach now? And what happens to the campaign against Workfare?

But it’s worth pointing out that the campaign against Workfare is another good example of coordinated action across the left. Boycott Workfare have been doing excellent work in collating data and info over some time.

The furore over that Tesco ad forced the issue into the national agenda, which the Guardian’s Shiv Malik and left wing blogs leveraged to keep the story going and create a storm. And all of this was of course hugely aided by direct action from the SWP.

This never was just a SWP campaign, as the government and many right-wingers tried to pretent, but a good example of how parts of the left who work in different ways can collaborate on issues.

So what happens now? We know that Chris Grayling will happily lie to push his schemes, so it’s not clear whether the mandatory element has been entirely removed or not. Or even how it will now be enforced.

Secondly, as many have said on Twitter, in some cases disabled people are still being forced on to these schemes without proper pay. Boycott Workfare are still organising actions around the country on 3rd March.

The media will inevitably ask: ‘now the govt has u-turned what are you complaining about?‘. There needs to be a clear and careful answer to this which engages public opinion too. We were lucky in that companies back-tracked even though public opinion was mostly in favour of Workfare.

Secondly – we need evidence if we are to argue that people are still being forced into these schemes and forced to work for weeks without pay. So if the DWP gets in touch with you after today with another letter saying joining these schemes is mandatory, get in touch.

I’m also interested in hearing your thoughts on how the campaign could carry on (if the govt does not change as it pledges).

[Read the excellent Sonia Poulton at the Daily Mail – Yes, we need to get our country working again. Sadly, Workfare is not going to do it.]

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


One type of group that you don’t mention above are Claimants Groups, like Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty, who have been fighting workfare since its introduction by the Labour government and targeting A4e for at least 3 years.
http://edinburghagainstpoverty.org.uk/node/20

I’d also shout out to Johnny Void in particular as a blogger who’s been banging on about this issue.

Until recently “the left” has been ignoring this issue. And the fight is very much still on. The sick & disabled are still being targeted for forced unpaid work. That’s the key thing here.

It’s a bit like the private prison complex in the US. Where increasingly more and more prisoners are working for American corporations for chicken feed. Capitalism loves slave, and child labour. Always has done and always will..

Sunny, I think you are being premature in describing this as a victory. All that has happened is the explicit compulsion element has been removed from one workfare scheme. There are still other schemes like CAP where participation is mandatory. We can kid ourselves all we want but someone facing the sanction of their dole being stopped unless they ‘volunteer’ lack the ability and courage to resist strong-arm tactics used to coerce youngsters, middle-aged unemployed and inevitably, the disabled onto such a scheme.

All that has happened is that some of the biggest companies have found a form of weasel words to make it look like they have made concessions to quell fears that they will be seen as compelling people to work in their shops without wages.

Tesco is one of the most ruthless companies in the Country; like any parasite, they will stop at nothing to squeeze the last penny of value from the population of their host Nation. They have shown no mercy in their hunt for profit above all else so far in their history and are not about to give up a cherry gig, merely because a section of ‘public opinion’ has turned against this scheme.

These cunts would sell their own parents down the river for a few quid, so are unlikely to baulk at the prospect of exploiting the victims of a pretty successful dehumanising exercise. The media and the political clique (Left and Right) have painted the unemployed, the disabled and the young as monsters for twenty years or so and there is simply no way that propaganda will be allowed to go to waste. Tesco et al will be raking in profits from this scheme for the foreseeable future, regardless of this cosmetic ‘rule change’.

As for the protest and your ‘What now’? It hasn’t finished because the real battle has only just begun. If those of us who five a fuck about the future of our population think we have won, then the battle has been lost, because nothing kills a campaign than complacency.

We thought we had won the battle for disabled rights and look how wrong we were about that.

Until recently “the left” has been ignoring this issue.

Think you misunderstand the nature of this blog. We have a huge range of issues to cover – from job cuts, the economy, environment, abortion and feminist issues, bank reform, looking at what parties are doing, fact-checking the media etc. The list goes on.

The issue hasn’t been at the top of the agenda, I’ll admit – but not every issue can. Sometimes, outrages like Tesco ad are needed to bring the issue into wider conversation, which is what we did. I applaud the work other people do but I don’t have the time or the energy to research, commission, keep track of and publish stuff on every issue that lefties want to see prioritised. The other day I got an email from someone saying we barely cover environment issues on here even though its a massive future issue (which I agree with).

Happy for you to give a shout out to others, but constantly attacking volunteer-run blogs for not covering every issue doesn’t sound to me as very constructive.

Sunny, I think you are being premature in describing this as a victory.

As I said above – since Chris Grayling will happily lie to further his own agenda this is very likely true.

But the govt has been forced to back-track. the question now is: what schemes are still in place; what does the govt require from people on them; and what are the instances where they say one thing and do another?

I’m not saying the wider war is over. I’m saying its important to take stock and figure out how to move forward.

Sunny @ 4

Genuine question, Sunny, do you think the Left have ignored it because the principle (although admittedly not as widespread or as cynical) was a part of New Labour’s strategy?

For my own part, this has been under my radar for a bit. Perhaps I as I am getting older and I could be unemployed soon for all I know (who knows?) that I have started to take notice. I wonder how many people who have never seen this may feel ‘there but for the grace of God’ as this begins to take hold?

Much was said about working class support for a benefit cap and workfare (As in ‘make them work for their dole’, type of comments), so I wonder what, if anything, is being done to highlight the fact that their wages, terms & conditions and jobs are under threat if large companies are allowed to exploit an unwaged workforce? People need to be careful what they wish for.

BTW, I wonder how many unemployed and long term disabled people don’t even bother to vote at the last election? What is being done to tap into that vote?

@6 Jim

You make an interesting point. Way back in 2009, Labour was boasting “Work trials and work experience will be made mandatory for long term jobless as part of a major expansion of employment support and welfare reform to get people back to work, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Yvette Cooper announced today.”

http://www.dwp.gov.uk/previous-administration-news/press-releases/2009/october-2009/dwp041-09-051009.shtml

For those of us who support opening up work experience to more people, this is a case of giving the last government credit where it’s due.

But it does suggest that claims of “victory” may be premature? I don’t think the Coalition are ditching the scheme, but even if they do it may be only a couple of years before Labour get back in.

>>We know that Chris Grayling will happily lie to push his schemes,

Ignoring the fact that Labour had workfare schemes and theirs were completely mandatory….

Keep up the pressure on this despicable government. The war is not won yet.

Hobson @ 7

For those of us who support opening up work experience to more people, this is a case of giving the last government credit where it’s due.

This is not about opening ‘up work experience’; this is about providing multi nationals with free labour. Work experience is what you get while you have a job. Same as millions of people get every year.

This is what is wrong with the Tories. They are obsessed with hiding their despicable schemes in flowery language. Why? Who are you cunts trying to convince?

Decent human beings are not taken in by this shite, we know you are lying bastards, so why lie to us?

Other scum? Surely, the Tories and the Right of the Lib Dems are onside, anyway? You do not need to convince Clegg that companies need free labour and the nasty scum that vote for you believe that the disabled get it too easy, so why the euphemistic language? Who are you trying to convince?

@10 Jim

I was defending Labour, not the Tories.

OP

‘ boycott Workfare are organising actions.’

Thought they were all too busy looking for full time work?

1. milgram

‘Claimants Groups’ – who are they please?

Genuine question, Sunny, do you think the Left have ignored it because the principle (although admittedly not as widespread or as cynical) was a part of New Labour’s strategy?

I can’t answer for the left – only for my own decisions as editor here. And it depends on who you’re referring to broadly. From my own perspective – there are a ton of things I have to read and keep track of and write on.And I rely on people sending me tips and articles in order to run with an agenda. In the last few days I’ve had lots of people send me articles / tips / revealing emails on Workfare – that makes it easier for me to constantly run stuff on it. I suspect something similar goes for the other left blogs.
There are smaller blogs that have their own niches which I applaud and read, and I’m not going to take away from that. And I link to them too (I linked to Jonny void’s stuff even though he hates me). The point is – we have limited capacity. So when people accuse me of not paying enough attention, I can only think ‘yeah, you try doing this glamorous job instead day in day out for not much other than abuse’.

As for Labour party – its irrelevant to me. We supported the unions strikes quite vociferously, attacked the welfare bill and lots of other things Labour hasn’t opposed. It doesn’t feature into my calculations. If someone sends me a good article on a topic we haven’t covered and it informs and fits, then I usually publish, regardless of what party it criticises.

When I was on Labour’s New Deal in 1998, I was FORCED to do 13 weeks of compulsory workfare, against my will – it was called the “Intensive Activity Period”. The only mitigating thing was that the workfare foisted on me by the Labour Party was for a charity rather than for a profit making concern like Tesco. The experience was useless and involved a long commute to and from my “Open Prison” for five days a week. I don’t remember the left complaining much about these abuses principally designed by Gordon Brown during New Labour’s glory years.

On the specifics of the victory on Work Experience (which is a much smaller part of the overall set-up than the Work Programme), I think we need to be careful about how this new ruling will translate into practice. It’s quite possible that people will find that the “gross misconduct” method will be used to cut benefits (this sanction remains) instead of the automatic cutting if people don’t turn up. Moreover, if people don’t turn up for voluntary Work Placements after a few days, this can be construed as a justification to put them on Work-Related Activity, which remains mandatory.

I’d be interested to know whether investment banks are involved in workfare.

Might as well get RBS trading desks involved, seeing as though they’re part of the public sector.

And the Disabled forced to undertake ..Unlimited workfare?
who is going champion their rights?

Sunny @ 13, 14

To be honest, I was talking more in general about the Left over the last ten years or so, not this site, who have put up some interesting features on this issue. I appluad you taking the fight were the action is.

@12. Max “claimants groups who are they?”
Besides the one I mentioned in my comment? There are these –
http://bit.ly/wD5YHT¬

@4 Sunny H “I don’t have the time or the energy to research, commission, keep track of and publish stuff on every issue that lefties want to see prioritised”
Which is why I added a comment pointing out some detail that I think you missed. I was concerned (with your “what next for the campaign against workfare) that you were building this climbdown up to be more than the superficial thing it is. ‘sall.

I don’t get paid for blogging either.

If it’s a victory, it’s a victory on the ‘wrong’ front. As bad as the sanctions were, the actual scheme the government has now (theoretically) shied from, was much the lesser of the various evils on offer. The more worrying schemes are still barely getting talked about and they’re carrying on as before. It’s a massive slight of hand and the likes of Grayling are probably laughing up their sleeves.

Whether it’s under New Labour or the Coalition, these programmes are just stat-shunters, and a means to massage figures. People want real jobs and real skills.

The worst thing about the way it’s being handled with the Coalition is that it’s poor maths. One of the first things you learn in maths is, to make a problem more manageable, you start cancelling out things in common &c. Take a large swathe of the unemployed. Give them exactly the same experience in exactly the same sector for exactly the same time frame and it doesn’t make any of them any more employable in a competitive sector.

All these schemes – whether delivered under New Labour or the Coalition – are a sop to those who look at the unemployed and those with mental and physical impairments and say ‘I fucking work so they should too’. Yet very few of them would, actually undertake this kind of work themselves. These kinds of schemes are always aimed at ‘someone else’.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Patron Press - #P2

    #UK : Victory in the campaign against Workfare! But what now? http://t.co/sVZDDJAu

  2. Len Arthur

    Victory in the campaign against Workfare! But what now? http://t.co/Rxcuntjg

  3. Nick H.

    Victory in the campaign against Workfare! But what now? http://t.co/Rxcuntjg

  4. Nick H.

    @libcon: Victory in the campaign against Workfare! But what now? http://t.co/kAXnMQcU – Stop mandatory programmes & fear of sanctions.

  5. sunny hundal

    All the teeth gnashing and calls to "get a backbone" couldn't stop the govt from a u-turn on Worfare. But what now? http://t.co/zDd5DDQU

  6. Tim Ireland

    All the teeth gnashing and calls to "get a backbone" couldn't stop the govt from a u-turn on Worfare. But what now? http://t.co/zDd5DDQU

  7. BevR

    Victory in the campaign against Workfare! But what now? http://t.co/gUhuRIcm #wrb #spartacusreport #boycottworkfare #nhs #democracy

  8. Stephe Meloy

    All the teeth gnashing and calls to "get a backbone" couldn't stop the govt from a u-turn on Worfare. But what now? http://t.co/zDd5DDQU

  9. Nick H.

    All the teeth gnashing and calls to "get a backbone" couldn't stop the govt from a u-turn on Worfare. But what now? http://t.co/zDd5DDQU

  10. Patron Press - #P2

    #UK : A small victory in the campaign against Workfare! But what now? http://t.co/sVZDDJAu

  11. Paul Cotterill

    @MissEllieMae @jamesrbuk Good report. I predicted exactly this mechanism three weeks ago http://t.co/rvwiVWQ1 when victory was declared





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