Saturday, 3 March 2012

Youth Fight for Jobs/Brighton Benefits Campaign March and Picket of Tesco's and McDonalds Against Workfare

Despite the rain Youth Fight for Jobs marched from Brighton Jobcentre to Tesco's in protest against their use of the workfare scheme. Under this scheme the unemployed will be made to work for their benefits just to receive their Job Seekers Allowance, for 8 weeks at a time. As we explained, this is not just an attack on those individuals forced onto these schemes, it is an attack on every worker. Why would employers take on full-time workers with comfortable pay and benefits if they have a ready-made package of cheap labour handed them by the government?

Due to the pressure put onto these companies by YFJ, Boycott Workfare and others, many have either pulled out of the workfare scheme or made changes to it. However these changes have been made out of embarrassment, the government has tried to justify the scheme in the media, with little success, but companies like Tesco and Greggs have not even tried to defend it. They are embarrassed because these protests have revealed what they are doing; conscripting the unemployed into cheap labour schemes. This scheme is only one of five, and despite the changes to the Work Programme, the others still exist, as an attempt to drive down the wages and conditions of workers by setting them against the unemployed in a race to the bottom.
Tesco announced they will pay work placement staff the same wage as their other workers and they will offer an interview for a job at the end of the placement. This is a real step forward, and if they keep their word, work placements at Tesco will now be paid almost triple what they were being paid previously. However we made it clear that this is not enough. It does not end the scandal of no jobs available, of 8 people chasing every job in Brighton and Hove. It does not end the low minimum wage, or the lower rates for 16-21 year olds. It does not stop employers taking workers on for anything up to zero hour contracts!
YFJ then marched to MacDonalds, which continues to participate fully in the workfare scheme. We chanted 'Ronald MacDonald, Hear us say, Workfare, NO WAY!' to get our message across. While we were protesting the police shut MacDonalds, preventing protesters from getting in. A member of Socialist Students, who is standing for President of the Student Union, made a speech describing the attacks facing young people and students today (see video here). 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 (see article here, halfway down the page)!
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 services to provide socially useful jobs for the more than 2.5m 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 per hour minimum wage, reverse all education cuts including the cut to EMA and for workers to join their trade unions and build fighting and democratic trade union branches to stand up for their rights.
Much has been said about the role of Socialists in these protests, and members of the Socialist Party took a lead in organising today's protest. Socialists are fighting these workfare schemes because we see them as part of a wider policy by capitalism, through their representatives in the Tory and Liberal Democrat government, to drive down the wages, terms and conditions of the working-class to pay for the capitalist crisis.
For this reason we have been a key part of the pensions dispute, which is the thin end of the wedge of public sector cuts, as well as the student movement at the end of 2010 where we led mass walkouts across the country. At the same time as we fight against the kind of exploitation practiced by the likes of Tesco and MacDonalds, we argue for the need to change the way that society is run. The working-class will face attack after attack so long as the capitalist system, which puts profits above the needs of ordinary people, is not replaced by a democratic socialist society. If you agree with us, please join us or get in touch to find out more (click here).