Boycott Workfare Manchester oppose state sanctioned “slave labour”

Shakespeare House was host to the Boycott Workfare meeting organised by the Whalley Range Green Party. Boycott workfare started in 2010 as a grass roots campaign to oppose forced unpaid work for those receiving welfare. Thomas Barlow, editor of Real Media and resident of Whalley Range, attended the meeting and said off Workfare “It is against our human rights to be forced to work, we have a law that bans slave labour in this country.”

Unemployed people are being demonised and I believe there is a war on the poor.

The Manchester branch of Boycott Workfare have a running campaign against B&M bargains in Whalley Range and Chorlton. A picket was recently held outside the Chorlton branch of B&M Bargains, which was covered by Manchester Mule here. The campaigners were determined to keep up the pressure on B&M Bargains with sustained flyer handout events outside the stores. During the meeting Barlow repeated that “public pressure works” saying that no firm likes the bad publicity associated with being in the workfare scheme.

Liverpool Workfare campaign had a recent victory where a large council contractor removal firm were pressured into exiting the workfare programme by demonstrations. The Boycott Workfare website also lists companies such as Sainsburys, Maplin, Burger King and Boots as companies that will no longer take part in workfare and say this as a sign that the tide is turning against workfare.

The Manchester branch of the Boycott Workfare campaign has been in existence for six months and one of its founding members Gwyn Morgan spoke at the meeting. Morgan an ex- teacher, who currently lives in Chorlton, had experienced claiming social security during an industrial dispute with his employers. He described how they treated him and processed him through the system as “very intimidating” with “increasing levels of intimidation” as the process continues.

Slave labour is a controversial term for workfare to some people, says Morgan, but he thinks it is accurate because “workfare is slave-labour because the means of survival are removed” their benefits are sanctioned if they refuse the work. This fits the International Labour organisations definition of forced labour (a.k.a. slavery) which states that someone who is under the menace of a penalty for the deprivation of food, shelter and other provisions can be identified as being in forced labour. The Oxford English dictionary definition of slave labour is “labour which is coerced and inadequately rewarded, or people that do it” also accurately describes people on workfare.

Barlow was concerned with the philosophy and spin, of the government and media, behind workfare; pointing out the negative image of welfare recipients portrayed on “poverty porn” titles such as Benefits Street and the Manchester based People Like Us. He reported communities in Moston and Moss side saying they felt the images portrayed in these programs were used to encourage punitive measures on welfare recipients. He believes that “unemployed people are being demonised and I believe there is a war on the poor. We are going back to a pre-Dickensian idea that poverty is somehow the individuals fault… not because of all the social and economic factors that we know make people poor.’

People on workfare don’t appear in the unemployment statistics.

During his presentation at the meeting Morgan pointed out that there is no evidence that workfare works in placing people in genuine paid jobs and that the only reason the unemployment figures are falling is that “people on workfare don’t appear in the unemployment statistics.” He also raised the nonsensical strategy of David Cameron who has stated 100% employment as an aim of the Tory government and the fact that the capitalist system relies on a pool of unemployed people to keep wages down.

The governments own figures show that workfare does not work, a Social Security Advisory Committee’s report in 2011 said there was no benefit to introducing mandatory work activity and that “This seems to us to signal that being mandated to mandatory work activity is regarded as a punishment…” . In 2012, Department for Work and Pensions research reported that mandatory work had “no impact on the likelihood of being employed compared to non-referrals.”

The only way Cameron can manage 100% employment is if he rolls out workfare on a bigger scale, and that is exactly the governments plan; which will further subsidise private industry with tax payers money.

I asked Gwyn what his hopes were for the campaign “The aim is to end workfare, unpaid labour. The employment strategy of the powers that be, is to roll it out to a massive degree. So there is a lot of work to do and a lot of scope for the campaign to move against this strategy.”

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