Government on the back foot after workfare ruling

Escalate action to fight for real jobs

Claire Laker-Mansfield, Youth Fight for Jobs
Youth Fight for Jobs protest against Workfare in Stratford's Westfield shopping centre in London 25 February 2012, photo Senan

Youth Fight for Jobs protest against Workfare in Stratford’s Westfield shopping centre in London 25 February 2012, photo Senan   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

“I am not going to give way on this” was the reply of Tory work and pensions minister Iain Duncan Smith (IDS) when confronted with the government’s defeat on workfare at the court of appeal.

Backed into a corner, embarrassed by the ruling, IDS and his government remain determined to plough ahead.

Wild accusations of ‘job snobbery’ were thundered at Cait Reilly, the geology graduate who beat the government in the courts last week.

She had been forced to abandon career-relevant volunteering to do unpaid work in Poundland.

After all, when you’re in the supermarket and you can’t find the item you want “who’s more important – the shelf stacker or the geologist?” railed the minister.


Shop work is, of course, very important. That’s why people should be paid a decent wage for doing it.

That’s why the insulting, patronising rubbish IDS spouts is such a slap in the face for shop workers everywhere.

Your job’s important (IDS has graciously confirmed) it’s just not worth a penny. In fact, you should be grateful to the bosses of multi-million pound companies for allowing you the privilege of helping generate their profits. So grateful you’ll be willing to do it for nothing.

But despite IDS’s bluster, this ruling is profoundly problematic for the government. Not, in the main, because of the legal aspect of the judgement, which ruled only on a technicality. The government has already said it will change the rules to get around the judgement.


No, the ruling was damaging because of the blow it has dealt to the idea that these schemes are anything other than what they are – a form of modern slavery.

It’s damaging because, once you cut through the reactionary rhetoric about scroungers and skivers, any ordinary person can see that forcing someone to work for nothing is not only deeply unfair, it undermines one of the more basic principles of a so-called democracy – a day’s pay for a day’s work.

It was this fact that meant the (numerically relatively small) protests which took place on this issue in 2012 were able to have such a big impact on the schemes, causing several companies to run a mile. Companies knew that their complicity in workfare was the opposite of ‘good PR’.

The government was nervously looking over its shoulders, anxious that, given the right ingredients, small protests might cascade in to big ones.

Nervous that those forced to work for nothing might find common cause with the low-paid workers their free labour is designed to cut across.

This ruling should spur on the fight against workfare. We must demand the government immediately shuts down all unpaid work schemes and provides a rebate to those who have lost benefits as a result of them.

Youth Fight for Jobs’ ‘Sick of Your Boss?’ initiative can help link the struggle of unemployed people with that of the underemployed ‘precariat’.

We aim to keep up the pressure on exploitative employers with protests and occupations, and build towards action on a larger scale.

Trade unions

It’s vital that the trade unions take up the issue of workfare as well as the super-exploitation faced by so many young workers.

If allowed to continue both will undermine the hard-won pay, terms and conditions of all. Right now, the government is on the defensive.

That means now is the time to escalate action. Join us, get involved and help build the fightback today.

Also see for updates from the Sussex student occupation