National Week of Action Against Workfare, and Week of Trade Union Action

This week is a national week of action against workfare, and Hands Off Our Homes will be out meeting claimants who have been forced onto workfare under the threat of benefit sanctions. We’ll also be gathering information about companies and organisations which benefit from forced unpaid work, as a first step towards a campaign of shaming and pressuring them to pull out of workfare schemes.  And next week we’ll be joining with striking workers in the health, local government and other public service sectors to show our support for their demands on pay and pensions – not forgetting that these are the services on which we all rely and which are being cut to the bone or threatened with privatisation, whilst struggling to cope with the fall-out of benefit cuts, inadequate housing and dwindling welfare rights of all kinds.
Read on to find out what we are doing, when and where during these intense two weeks of action.
In the meantime, here’s an action which anyone with internet access can easily do. Go to the Boycott Workfare blog at http://www.boycottworkfare.org/,  read about the TUC’s support for workfare for young people, and use the email and twitter addresses provided to contact them and tell them why they should not be cooperating with this programme.

Hands Off Our Homes recognises the importance of the trade union movement: most of us belong to unions ourselves and we encourage others to do so (we can tell you how you can join Unite Community if you are not in waged work). Many of us will also be supporting the TUC demo in London, and the various strikes taking place next week. This is because we understand that all sectors need to stand together to resist punitive austerity policies which affect both waged and unwaged, but which also threaten to divide us. Workers and claimants are not two separate groups: today’s waged worker may be tomorrow’s sick or unemployed claimant or unpaid carer, and millions of waged workers are dependent on benefits to top up low and insecure pay. When we lose the right to a guaranteed basic level of support, and when unemployment and the benefits system are manipulated to force people into unpaid or insecure work, the result is fewer secure jobs, and worse pay and conditions across the board.

We need to call on the TUC to help give us a voice: to recognise that there is no such thing as a good workfare scheme and that unpaid traineeships for young people need to be denounced and resisted as the scam which they are. Read more at http:boycottworkfare.org/  and then take action.

Other action on Workfare – please join us!

This Friday, 10th October, we’ll be outside Park Place job-centre from 10am until about 12 noon with our stalls, and whilst we’ll be giving out the usual information about the bedroom tax  (including advice on appeals and DHP applications), we’ll also be talking to JSA claimants who have been affected by sanctions and who have been forced onto one of the many Workfare schemes.  As well as offering support and advice where we can, and getting people signed up to the campaign, we’ll be learning more about the companies who benefit from workfare and about the conditions which affect claimants sent onto these schemes.

We’ll also be talking to job-centre staff as they go in and out: although we know that some staff have been offensive, bullying and patronising to claimants, we also know that many are upset by the pressure they are placed under to apply harsh or impossible jobsearch conditions and sanction vulnerable claimants.  Getting rid of these abuses is going to take a massive commitment by staff and their unions, to work together in solidarity with the claimants affected by them, and with campaign groups such as Hands Off Our Homes and many others. Again, talking to staff at the job-centre is just a small but necessary step towards building the movement we need.

Later in the day (from about 1pm) we’ll be doing a tour of stores, fast food outlets etc in Leeds – to some we know are involved in workfare and some we’re not sure about, to gain as much accurate information as we can about which companies are involved and to what extent. Once we have this information there’s no end to the effective action we can take – from picketing stores, organisations and local government offices, to bombarding organisations on email, facebook and twitter, writing to the press and pressuring our MPs, and general awareness-raising amongst the public. Like the bedroom tax, workfare and sanctions, work-capability assessments and refusal of support to people too ill to work, savage cuts and reductions in the rights of young people – all these are plainly wrong, and we can make sure that they become as unpopular as the bedroom tax already is.

Next week’s strikes and union demos

We are not yet sure of exactly where we’ll be during next week’s strike actions, but here’s a rough idea of the programme. We’ll update you nearer the time, and you can always phone, text, email etc for up-to-date information:

  • Monday 13th October: health workers’ stoppage for 4 hours – 7am to 11am. hands Off Our Homes will be present on picket lines, probably outside St James’ hospital – more to be confirmed later.
  • Tuesday 14th October: strikers include local government  (council) workers  in UNISON, GMB and Unite the Union. Local government workers have suffered three years of a pay freeze, followed by a below inflation pay deal and have now been offered a paltry 1%.  They have seen their pay reduced in value by 20%since 2010. This resulted in a one day strike on 10 July, with mass rallies up and down the country. We’ll be joining them for a rally on the 14th – watch this space for more.
  • Wednesday 15th October: PCS members in government departments and agencies, including the DWP, on strike and taking action including pickets and lobbying of MPs – The PCS say that since 2010, taking into account pay cuts, the increase in monthly pension contributions and inflation, many civil servants have suffered a 20% cut in their incomes.
  • Saturday 18th October – TUC demo under the banner “Britain Needs a Pay-Rise”. Whilst this is obviously designed with waged workers in mind, there will be many other groups protesting cuts to their income and services – people unable to find work, people whose work is unpaid and unrecognised, people with disabilities and their carers. You can get a free coach ticket if you are a Unite Community member (we can tell you how to join), or from Leeds TUC (phone UNISON on 0113 2458442.

And for more information about workfare and sanctions, download our flyers Leeds Boycott Workfare and sanctions/workfareinfo flyer

Advice for claimants threatened with sanctions is here

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