Monthly Archives: November 2014

Tesco and Poundland Pickets Follow Bulky Bob Workfare Victory

yourimageYesterday was to have been the day of our big demo against furniture recyclers Bulky Bob’s, demanding that the Liverpool council contractor got rid of workfare. But then of course, the fact that we’d exposed them and were threatening a demo had been enough to force a statement that the company would no longer take part in any work programmes.

So instead we held a much more low key demonstration, outside a major Tesco store in the city centre, and outside a Poundland, where we’ve got a really good reception from the general public in recent weeks.

This particular Tesco store is at a busy intersection, and on Saturday lunchtimes there are hundreds of people passing every minute. Our leaflets went extremely quickly, but perhaps not quick enough for the store manager. He came out a few times to move us an inch or two, and then just as we were about to get rid of our last few statements against Tesco’s use of workfare, a police car showed up, and cops went in to talk.

Anyway, we were off to Poundland regardless, where we got our usual welcome. It seems quite clear that the customers of the cheapest shops are the ones who best appreciate what we are talking about. Perhaps this isn’t surprising. They are probably the most likely to face workfare themselves, or to know others who do. Many were easily persuaded to shop at alternative cheap outlets, and others vowed to tell their friends about workfare, spreading the word about Poundland’s use of the anti-working class workfare system.

With Christmas – and therefore last minute Christmas shopping – coming up, we are looking for another winnable target like Bulky Bob’s to take on over the winter months. Workfare exploiters should be looking over their shoulders!

No More Workfare at Bulky Bob’s – How It Happened!

494689Even if we do say so ourselves, Liverpool IWW have won a great victory by getting such a strong statement against workfare from locally-based household waste recycling/furniture company FRC/Bulky Bob’s, who used the unpaid labour scheme until last Friday.

Liverpool wobblies had heard about Bulky Bob’s use of conscripted workfare labour a few months back, and FRC have been viewed as a potential target for that long. But we considered that taking them on was something to build up to. This was particularly important because Liverpool IWW have only been organising since this spring. There’s been lots of admin work to do as we look to become a chartered branch, and many vital founding discussions to be had about issues such as safer spaces policy.

As preparations for a demo against the company began on 4th November, Liverpool IWW tweeted Bulky Bob’s “Is it true that your company uses workfare – i.e. doesn’t pay people for the work they do because they’re unemployed?”. This got quite a few retweets, and seemed to indicate that many local people would be interested in protesting against a council-contracted and backed business exploiting free labour.

In the joint statement, FRC Group declared that they “made the decision to withdraw from the programme in October and informed Learn Direct on November 6th, before any protest was planned”. A demonstration at the Bulky Bob’s shop on London Road was publicly announced on November 9th and something of a public outcry followed, with local media such as Radio Merseyside and the Liverpool Echo getting in touch with FRC. On Wednesday 12th, we got the first public word from FRC that they wanted to quit workfare, and were keen to meet us and clear things up. We were happy to do so, and the meeting between Liverpool IWW officers and FRC representatives which produced the joint statement took place on Friday 14th.

Whatever the exact story about how, when and why FRC reached their decision to quit workfare (and we can’t automatically take their version at face value), they certainly didn’t intend to make any public statement, and they didn’t intend to sign the Keep Volunteering Voluntary agreement. It was the actions of Liverpool IWW – and all those who spread the story or expressed outrage – which forced them into this position.

At our meeting, FRC claimed that they made job cuts in 2012/13 after their funding was substantially cut. This seems highly likely. They also denied that the workfare conscripts in any way replaced those jobs. This would be impossible to prove without a thorough investigation, and besides, misses the point that people should be paid for their labour, whether or not the conscripts replaced the specific jobs which had been cut. And of course, as Johnny Void pointed out, the taxpayer gave FRC what the company described as being “a small amount of per capita funding” for the workfare placements. No matter how “small” this funding, it – plus the free labour – must have been a real shot in the arm for a struggling business.

The company make much of their success in training up otherwise ‘unskilled’ people, and indeed last week they won an award for this. On Friday, our officers met a worker who spoke in glowing terms about how starting work for FRC ten years ago turned his life around. We were pleased to hear his story. We trust that many other people are able to choose such opportunities for themselves in the future.

FRC/Bulky Bob’s aren’t Tesco. Their senior staff were able to come across as connected to the everyday experience of working for the company, and genuinely concerned with their workers’ well-being. It’s possible that for them, deciding to take on workfare in the company’s darkest days a couple of years back was a ‘tough choice’, which they believed they had to make in order to keep doing the good work they do. But by seeing no contradiction between giving away free or nearly free furniture to the poor, and forcing the poor to donate their time and energy for nothing, they gave the coalition’s murdering policy some sort of progressive veneer.

That’s all over now though. We won. In the future, no-one will be forced to work at FRC/Bulky Bob’s for free. This means everyone there will genuinely want to be there, in order to gain experience or – of course – to make money. This is significant in of itself. But maybe more importantly, we’ve also demonstrated that campaigning can still bring victories against workfare – a couple of years after many disillusioned and knackered activists left the fight against one of the government’s most wickedly anti-working class policies.

So yes, potential wins are out there waiting! And perhaps our success can show others the best sort of targets to pick. Because Bulky Bob’s were smallish and local, it didn’t take a massive campaign to get their attention, as it might with a Tesco or a Royal Mail. We also chose exactly the right time to make a move against Bulky Bob’s – their council contract was up for renewal over the next year, and it is likely they’re currently putting together a new bid. They were therefore extremely vulnerable to public pressure.

Maybe anti-workfare campaigners across the UK should look at targeting small, local employers first, and scale up to a stage where we can take on the giants together.

Bulky Bob/FRC Group and Liverpool IWW Joint Statement on Workfare

pnw__1340279476_Bulky_bobs_FRC_van_colour_lansLiverpool IWW and FRC Group have met and we are pleased to share this joint statement:

FRC Group would like to pledge that they are no longer involved in any mandated work programmes and they will never engage with any again. FRC Group has also signed the Keep Volunteering Voluntary pledge.

FRC Group said: “We took part in the scheme because we are a training organisation and we believed we could offer a worthwhile experience for people. However we were unhappy that people were mandated to attend and we were very concerned when we heard about other businesses who we believe exploit workfare placements as unpaid labour. Therefore we made the decision to withdraw from the programme in October and informed Learn Direct on November 6th, before any protest was planned. We are happy to support Liverpool IWW in their efforts to persuade the DWP to scrap Workfare and would urge any other business involved in the scheme to withdraw at once.”

Liverpool IWW said: “After visiting FRC Group we have heard that they took part in the scheme for ‘the right reasons’. We have heard testimony from the workers that they are treated with fairness and respect and we are pleased that they are encouraging other businesses to join them in withdrawing from the scheme.”

Liverpool Council Contractor Bulky Bob’s Facing Workfare Protest

FRC-100915-0255Liverpool Industrial Workers of the World union (IWW) have called a demonstration outside Bulky Bob’s on London Road, for a week on Saturday. This comes after a tip-off from an anonymous insider at the household item recycling company, who told Liverpool IWW that:

“[…] there is one paid manager in the store (who used to work for the company that is now LearnDirect which is one of the major ‘providers’) and the rest of the staff are on workfare or ‘volunteers’. Likewise, the connected company FRC (Furniture Resource Centre) has a warehouse on Brunswick Dock which runs on workfare, as do its vans which collect and deliver to Bulky Bobs.”

There are many workfare exploiters in the city, and our union has already targeted some of them, with more to follow. But what makes the case of Bulky Bob’s so explosive is the fact that the ‘social enterprise’ operates under a Liverpool council contract, with the city’s logo emblazoned on its vans.

Bulky Bob’s has held the council contract since 2000, and has made hundreds of thousands of collections from Liverpool homes since then. Many of the items have been resold for the use of low income individuals and families. We have no problem with this.

However, it is scandalous that Bulky Bob’s contribute to the growth of Liverpool poverty, by exploiting unpaid labour. As with all workfare placements, those at Bulky Bob’s prevent those being compelled to work there from looking from proper, paid work. At the same time, they encourage other businesses to take on unpaid labour, forcing down wages for all working class people.

Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson has put himself forward as an opponent of workfare. When Labour MPs abstained in a House of Commons vote on the issue early last year, Anderson tweeted that “Workfare abstentions gives me the same feelings of shame as I had in 2007 over abolition of 10p tax rate every Labour MP should’ve voted no”. A few days later, he echoed journalist Owen Jones’ description of workfare as being a “brutal, unforgivable attack on vulnerable people”.

Bulky Bob’s’ contract expires next year. Liverpool IWW want to achieve a situation where no-one on a council contract is forced into the job by a DWP threat of destitution if they refuse to work for free. So we are demanding that Joe Anderson, plus Cabinet Member for Employment & Skills Nick Small, use their influence to ensure that Bulky Bob’s immediately scrap their participation in workfare. If the company refuse to do so, we demand that Liverpool council commit to scrapping their partnership with Bulky Bob’s in 2015.

Tesco and Poundland Targeted over Workfare in Liverpool

yourimageTwo weeks after we went out the last time, Liverpool IWW and friends were ready to take on local workfare exploitation once more yesterday. See more photos here.

There are many Tescos to choose from in central Liverpool, with the company having a massive expansion locally over the last few years, coinciding with their use of workfare. In the end, we picked the one on Hanover Street, as it gave us some shelter from the heavy rain! After talking with some of the staff inside, we stood outside, and got rid of around two hundred anti-workfare leaflets in forty-five minutes.

Having done this, we were about to move on to our second target. But then the Tesco store’s manager started having a go at us, claiming he’d “done [his] research”, and our leaflet was “just untrue”.

Sorry Mr Tesco Manager on your up to £56,000 a year. Your particular store may not use workfare, but Tesco famously does. The company’s Twitter account confirmed as much in July, but we knew already knew it from the many statements of people who have been through the scheme there. Until Tesco leaves all workfare schemes and make a public statement condemning workfare, they are a legitimate target, and your store is too.

After saying bye to Mr Manager, we made our way to Poundland on Williamson Square, where the public made short work of our leaflet supply. Again, like last time, we had good chats with lots of new people, and we’d got lots of new local followers on our Facebook page and our Twitter account yesterday evening!

As Liverpool IWW, we take the position that not only is workfare really bad news for the workers who are put on it, it also has a hugely negative impact on the working class as a whole – pushing up unemployment and putting downward pressure on wages. So paid workers on the job, workfare employees on the job, and working class customers can and must unite to fight for their shared interests. And as the recent national week of action proved, we can get wins on workfare!

Next time, we’re going after a workfare exploiter who is well known to Liverpool people, and have the backing of the local council. Watch this space!

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