As part of the national week of action against workfare, members of Liverpool Solidarity Federation, the Anarchist Federation and various comrades held a picket at the city-centre offices of A4e, with the aim of keeping the pressure on these exploiters, while a communications blockade was simultaneously carried out by allies all over the country.
On Saturday the 7th of July Thames Valley Solidarity Federation joined a host of other groups in a day of action against workfare in Oxford to mark the start of the Week of Action.
Like many other groups on the day, we began with the dilemma of who to target. Holland & Barrett had surrendered the previous week and there were so many exploiters to choose from. Still, all were in agreement that it was a fine dilemma to have!
When we discovered a day before our planned Week against Workfare that Holland and Barrett had pulled out of the government's "replace paid jobs with JSA conscripts" scheme we almost found ourselves at a loose end.
We've spent months doing scary-dangerous things like handing out leaflets, waving placards and sending emails of complaint, so in the absence of H&B we had to ask ourselves, who deserves a swift kick to the ethics most this week?
Fortunately we're up on our current affairs and the answer came quickly - a Libor fixing, unrepentant banking giant led by sociopaths which is so greedy it still uses Workfare to get its menial tasks finished. Yes, we went after Barclays. Never let it be said we think small.
On Tuesday 26 June, Liverpool Solidarity Federation called a picket and a communications blockade against A4e in Liverpool. Both were well attended, with up to a dozen people joining in the afternoon picket whilst countless people from around the country jammed up phone and fax lines throughout the day.
From the morning, we were getting reports that the communications blockade was having its desired effect. People were hung up on as soon as they even mentioned the work programme, re-directed to central phone lines and met with exasperated staff on the other end of the line. By the afternoon, there were huge delays in answering calls and the fax machine was switched off - no doubt due to the huge volume of literature, complaints and sheer nonsense clogging it up.
Another Saturday, another round of direct action against workfare providers in Liverpool. Members of Liverpool Solidarity Federation were joined by other local anarchists and activists to picket Holland & Barrett and Argos in the City Centre. The lively pickets saw 600 leaflets distributed and a number of shoppers turned away from both stores.
When we arrived at the main Holland & Barrett store in town, the security guard immediately got on the phone to the police. When they arrived, they took no action against us, but a complaint by the manager that our picket had abused staff (a claim which was entirely untrue) suggests that the continued pressure is starting to have an effect. Whilst the response from the public varied from largely ambivalent to positive and supportive, local security were clearly extremely hostile.
Brighton Solidarity Federation and the Brighton Benefits Campaign picketed the London Road branch of Holland & Barrett this morning (23rd June). We had a warm reception from the public, giving out several hundred leaflets during the three hours we were there and turning at least half of their trade away.
So many potential customers decided to shop elsewhere that a member of staff came out and started a loud argument, accusing us of having physically blocked people from coming in to the shop. It was unfortunate that his rant was based on the fact that customers had been ‘in the doorway’ before turning away – proving that they found Holland & Barrett’s use of workfare far more off-putting than our picket.
Today, activists including Liverpool Solidarity Federation members held an informational picket at Jobcentre Plus in Bootle. There, we handed out advice leaflets and Solfed workfare pamphlets to claimants, alongside more general leaflets to the public.
In all, we stayed there for about an hour and a half. The response we had from claimants and members of the public alike was overwhelmingly positive. Most took our leaflets gratefully, whilst more than a few people stopped to chat about workfare and our campaign against it. Several trade unionists from the local council also promised to take the information back to their branches as it affected their staff as well.
On Saturday 16th June, members of Liverpool Solidarity Federation, along with members of the Anarchist Federation and local unaffiliated activists, held a picket of the Asda store on Smithdown Road in Wavertree as part of a series of actions to protest against and to raise awareness of Asda’s use of workfare.
The picket began at the main entrance, at the opposite end of the store to Smithdown Road. This entrance gets the most foot traffic as the trolleys and car park are adjacent. We began to hand out leaflets and engage with customers. Security and management stood in the doorway of the store but did not challenge us. After no more than five minutes, two police cars and full van arrived and officers immediately surrounded the picket and began hassling individual picketers, ordering some to remove masks and hoods.
May 26 saw the National “How Do We Break Workfare” conference in Brighton organised by Brighton Benefits Campaign, with attendees from groups across the country. The one day conference saw a variety of discussions and workshops on the various work for your benefits schemes about the UK
Today (12 June), around a dozen anti-workfare activists joined a picket of the Liverpool offices of A4e, called by Liverpool Solidarity Federation. At the same time, hundreds of people took part in our communications blockade of the same office - effectively jamming up the phone and fax lines for a considerable portion of the day.