By Richard Donnelly.
About twenty activists congregated in Kingston town centre today to take on companies that are still involved in the government’s “workfare schemes”. Buoyed by the success of the recent protests in forcing company after company to pull out of the schemes, and by the government’s concessions over one of the programmes, they targeted high street shops that continue to use welfare claimants as unpaid labour.
The demonstration was organised by Kingston Right to Work, and hit McDonald’s first, where activists made speeches explaining that, though Chris Grayling, the employment minister, had given the multibillion pound company £10 million to create jobs, they had not used the money to open a single new position.
Wilkinson’s was next, where police and security guards had to lock one of the doors to stop the store being occupied. Shoppers were turned away as the protesters made the case that no one should buy goods from a shop that uses forced, free labour. As the demonstrators headed towards McDonalds, one of the union reps from the shop congratulated the protest for its work, explaining that workfare was being used to undermine the pay and confidence of retail workers.
Demonstrators were angry not only about the crude way in which the government wants to use unemployed people to drive down wage bills for massive companies, but also the attacks on benefit claimants being made in the media and by Tory politicians. Speaking outside Superdrug – which has suspended involvement in workfare, but not pulled out of the scheme completely – one protestor said, “Chris Grayling, the employment minister, calls unemployed people scroungers – but he claimed public money to pay his rent for a flat in Pimlico, even though he owns two in Wimbledon and one in Epsom. The real scroungers are in parliament.”
Kingston Right to Work resolved to keep up its campaign against workfare and continue shutting down stores until the schemes collapse. Members of the group will attending the Austerity and Resistance conference next Sunday to plan their campaign against the Tory attack on benefits and the welfare state.