Reports and Campaigns
Reports and campaigns:
"Give us jobs NOT slave labour"
Paul Callanan, National Organiser YFJ
On 3 March, Youth Fight for Jobs (YFJ) organised and took part in anti- workfare protests up and down the country. We named and shamed those high street brands that are using the unemployed as modern-day slaves.
We have been winning victories. Already the government is claiming that those who drop out of the Work Experience scheme won't face a threat to their benefits. And a number of big companies have also dropped out of the scheme.
But we must continue to fight. The threat to benefits still exists in most of the schemes. That's why we are inviting the trade unions, eight of whom back YFJ, and organisations like Right to Work and Boycott Workfare to join us in organising a national demonstration. YFJ is considering June as a possible time for this.
Summit for nothing
Iain Dalton, Leeds
After a summit of panicked business leaders worried about becoming the next focus for protest over their participation in workfare schemes, the government announced it had dropped threats to stop benefits if people pulled out part way through their 'work experience'.
The past few weeks have seen a number of companies pull out of or suspend/review their involvement, as the protests organised by YFJ and others have panicked them.
HMV and Burger King have announced they are dropping out, with Boots joining them even after the government made its announcement. This shows these schemes up for the shambles they really are.
In YFJ we support the retail workers' union Usdaw's call for the removal of any compulsion from the schemes and for participants to be given the same terms, pay and conditions as existing staff. We would add that there should be guaranteed jobs at the end for those on the placements and they should be able to join the appropriate union.
With the trade union movement we need to build an active campaign of supporting protests outside stores, aiming to build a mass campaign to end workfare and fight for decent, well-paid, permanent jobs for all.
Naming and shaming the profiteers
Workfare minister Iain Duncan Smith got a rough ride from Youth Fight for Jobs on 2 March, both inside and outside Tottenham Town Hall.
IDS refused to respond to Ian Pattison, YFJ organiser's points about workfare, instead pushing him out of the way and loudly stating "the work experience programme is brilliant!"
IDS blamed young people in Tottenham for believing they shouldn't have to travel to find work. YFJ explained that there are 25 people looking for every available job in Tottenham, but the situation is similar everywhere. The fact is there aren't enough jobs. YFJ challenged Duncan Smith and the Tories' cuts agenda and the effects it's having in exacerbating unemployment but all IDS could reply was "well I disagree with you".
South and West
Youth Fight for Jobs activists, Socialist Students and Socialist Party members from across Hampshire converged on Southampton High Street. Young people took turns on the megaphone, explaining the injustice of the scheme, and gathering a crowd of supporters.
The demo was covered by the Solent University student newspaper and many young people signed up to show their support for the campaign, with others pledging to support Trade Union and Socialist Coalition candidates in the upcoming local elections.
In Bristol the 60-strong protest started outside BHS in the city centre - a location agreed before BHS pulled out of the Work Experience schemes - and proceeded around the city's main retail area. We handed letters to the staff in all the shops we went to making it clear that we were not demonstrating against them and calling for them to join in the struggle for decent jobs and decent conditions for all.
In Brighton YFJ marched to McDonald's, which the police then shut down! Jack Poole of Brighton Socialist Students, who is standing for president of the student union, made a speech describing the attacks facing young people and students today.
Glenn Kelly, Socialist Party, described the movement in 1985 that met Thatcher's attempts to conscript young people into the Youth Training Scheme. A quarter of a million students went on strike in 1985 and the government backed down!
Throughout the day our main demand was for real job creation. The private sector is clearly not up to the task, so we call for proper investment into public works to provide socially useful jobs for the more than 2.5 million unemployed.
For example, YFJ calls for a mass house-building and renovation programme as one example of socially useful public works that could create jobs. We call for an £8 an hour minimum wage, reverse all education cuts including the axing of EMA, for workers to join their trade unions and build fighting and democratic trade unions.
Ian Harris, Michael Wright and Jon Redford
Birmingham has one of the highest levels of unemployment nationally at 11%. Our protest toured Poundland, Greggs and McDonald's - currently estimated to be making £800 million in profit every month - as we explained to shoppers the need to fight for real jobs.
In Mansfield we got a great reception leafleting and petitioning outside McDonald's, British Home Stores and Dorothy Perkins.
When two police constables approached us and asked if we had permission to use the megaphone, we explained what we were doing. We also said we opposed privatisation in Lincolnshire police and other forces, and had visited the picket line during last year's strike against cuts and redundancies by Nottinghamshire Police Unison members.
They wished us good luck and left it at that.
In Nottingham the protest received brilliant news coverage and a good turnout. People were desperate for leaflets and to join in the chanting outside Wilkinson's, Greggs, McDonald's and Primark. Many also came to tell personal stories of their experiences of being forced to work for free through the scheme. They highlighted their continued unemployment as proof that the placements did nothing but help big businesses keep their profits by forcing people to work for free.
In Lincoln, days before the protest we were receiving calls from the head office of HMV to assure us that they had pulled out of the scheme and begged us not to protest there! On the morning of the demonstration we'd heard that Primark were so concerned about the effects of the coming protest that they had a full staff meeting in the morning and were planning to take legal action against us if we entered their store.
This gives a glimpse of the effect that workers and young people can have when they organise and protest.
Nick Hart, Jon Dale, Helen Pattison and Alex Moore
Devonshire Green in Sheffield was the start of a protest tour of multinationals benefiting from the government's workfare schemes.
Judging by the number of companies who have already withdrawn from the workfare schemes, the protests are having a serious impact.
In Hull on 5 March young people and trade unionists protested outside McDonald's. We received overwhelming support from the public as they took our leaflets.
Workers from a multi-national coffee shop came over and offered us free coffee samples and took leaflets, being in complete agreement with our campaign.
Chaz Lockett and Matt Whale