Monday, 21 November 2011

The Government's Slave Labour Scheme

By Robbie Segal, USDAW NEC and Folkestone Socialist Party
Tesco, Poundland, Argos, Sainsbury are just a few companies we have agreements with and all have embraced the ConDem's ‘job experience programme’ for young unemployed. This latest scheme forces young people -16 to 21 year olds - to spend eight weeks working a 30 hour week as slaves. They receive no payment for their work and if they refuse to participate they lose their job seeker's allowance. For trade unionists, this is a form of slavery - working for nothing.

Tesco made £1.9 profit for the first half of 2011. Tesco, the biggest private employer in the UK is also the biggest private employer in Europe. There are now 293,676 staff employed in the UK and 492,714 worldwide. There are 5,380 stores worldwide and of these 2,715 are in the UK. The idea of cheap or free labour is tempting to the benefices of the profit system but, surely, companies like Tesco can afford to make up these young peoples’ wages to the same paid to other members of staff.
So why has Usdaw been silent on the subject? Usdaw's activists have raised the issue but we have heard little from our so-called leaders. Hannett's clique have now admitted that when Tesco introduced the scheme they were ignored. If partnership was genuine then Usdaw would have been informed. Tesco sees Usdaw as another arm of their Personnel Department and we are relied upon to help implement their controversial changes. This illustrate the bankruptcy of the failed 'social partnership' approach.
Instead of running a campaign to save police jobs we should be fighting to ensure these modern-day slaves are paid the same wages as our members which, unfortunately, is little more than the minimum wage. Such a campaign would act as an example of how trade unions are relevant to young people today.
Youth unemployment has climbed to over one million which means a staggering 22% of 16 - 26 year-olds and in some areas over one in three are on the dole. Rather than implement genuine training programmes to develop real skills, both the major political parties’ - ConDems and Labour - response is to establish this cheap labour work experience scheme. This is tinkering with the problem. What actual skills are being gained during these eight weeks? The answer is very little.
As well as defending young people’s right to work, the Socialist Party advocates a massive housing building programme of publicly owned housing on an environmentally sustainable basis, to provide good quality homes on low rent. As part of this policy, workers could also pass on useful skills to a new generation of construction workers.
The Activist advocates that society should be based on socialist principles, where the resources of society are used for the benefit of all rather than at present where the rich few take the lion’s share of the world's wealth.
This ConDem's work scheme comes after the millionaires' government scrapped the Education Maintenance Allowance. Whatever path these young people choose, they end up losing. It is the responsibility of the trade unions to join them in the fight for a future.
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