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Posted on 27 February 2012 at 14:06 GMT

YFJ  'Westfield Workhouse' protest action against workfare in the Westfield shopping centre, Stratford, East London, photo by Sarah Wrack

YFJ 'Westfield Workhouse' protest action against workfare in the Westfield shopping centre, Stratford, East London, photo by Sarah Wrack   (Click to enlarge)

Protests saying 'no' to slave labour workfare

Lewisham, South London

Lewisham Socialist Party members held a very lively protest outside McDonalds on Saturday 25th February.

The aim was to raise awareness amongst customers about McDonalds' workers being forced to work full days for their Job Seekers Allowance.

This is an outrageous scandal that has gripped the public imagination and Youth Fight for Jobs and Socialist Party members have been at the forefront in highlighting this.

A big group of us loudly and enthusiatically raised the demand: "No pay, no way; Pay a decent wage" and "We don't want our taxes to swell McDonalds profits".

We certainly got noticed and floods of local people, young and old, signed our anti-workfare petition.

Many were so impressed by our robust and consistent arguments against workfare that they now want to join this campaign.

We knew we were doing a great job when the manager of McDonalds threatened us with the police. Apparently the Socialist Party was putting all of the customers off their Big Mac meals and making them think for the first time about workfare and greedy firms like McDonalds exploiting the jobless.

We asked her why she objected to peaceful protest when we supposedly still live in a democratic country? We were also approached by Police Community Support Officers who were very polite and we seized the opportunity to educate them about workfare. They ended up agreeing with us!

When the protest finished all of us were in full agreement that McDonalds certainly was not 'lovin it' that day!

Helen Ridett

Cardiff

Cardiff's university and college students demonstrated outside Burtons in Queen Street, Cardiff on Saturday to protest against the government-backed workfare scheme, in which unemployed people are forced to work unpaid in exchange for a continuation of their benefits.

Trade unionists in shop workers' union Usdaw have publicised the failures of the programme, and socialists and young activists have taken the lead in building a campaign to 'name and shame' companies taking advantage of free labour.

Pressure from protests and demonstrations has led to the scheme's rapid near-collapse. In Cardiff, protesters distributed Youth Fight for Education leaflets to shoppers, many of whom turned back from the targeted store and did not enter.

The workfare scheme has put few, if any, unemployed people into paid work. Many shops making use of unpaid labour schemes are content to 'hire' unemployed people with the promise of consideration for a job in the unspecified future, only to dismiss them arbitrarily after a few months and begin the cycle anew by 'hiring' yet another desperate jobseeker.

While David Cameron's Big Society project, of which workfare is a part, has urged increased volunteering and unpaid work, it is utterly blind to the market's refusal to create jobs.

Wales has a huge potential for job creation both in traditional heavy and light industry and in green energy, making use of the country's plentiful wind and water.

Edmund Schluessel, a Youth Fight for Education-backed prospective candidate for the National Union of Students (NUS) national executive committee, took part in the protest.

He noted: "Over a million young people in the UK are out of work and being told to do menial jobs for free with no real hope of a paying job at the end.

"Meanwhile, highly skilled workers like teachers, lecturers, physicians and nurses are working 60-hour to 80-hour weeks, but only being paid for their contracted 35.

"The government are cutting funding to go to university so young people can become highly-skilled workers in these fields while tuition fees skyrocket and access to higher education implodes. This simply doesn't make sense.

"I and other Youth Fight for Jobs candidates will urge NUS to put its full weight behind ensuring that apprentices and university and college graduates have jobs, not dole, to look ahead to when they finish their courses.

"NUS's national student walkout on 14th March should link students up with workers and the unemployed to build the broadest possible class-based response to the cutbacks and to the crisis economy."

NUS Wales president and Labour Students member Luke Young, another candidate in the upcoming elections, has urged Welsh student unions not to take part in the walkout, despite education cutbacks and unemployment rates in Wales being of the same scale as those in England.

YFJ Wales

Stratford, East London

Westfield Workhouse protest, Stratford, London, 25.2.12, photo Suzanne Beishon

Westfield Workhouse protest, Stratford, London, 25.2.12, photo Suzanne Beishon   (Click to enlarge)

Paul Callanan, Youth Fight for Jobs national organiser speaking at the YFJ-organised 'Westfield Workhouse' tour in Stratford said: "Today's protest had been a huge success.

"We are naming and shaming the companies exploiting young people and we will continue to do so. On Monday we will be picketing McDonalds restaurants all over the country.

"This company made 1.3 billion profits last year yet they won't pay people for working there.

"Youth Fight for Jobs says no all workfare schemes. We say that people should be given a decent wage for a decent day's work.

"The government should be investing in real jobs on decent wages and conditions. We are building a movement of students and workers.

"We will fight this rotten system that has led to mass unemployment and we will fight for our futures".

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