liverpool anti-workfare action report

Adam Ford took to the streets as part of a lively national campaign


On Saturday, around forty activists responded to a callout by Liverpool Solidarity Federation, and picketed companies profiting from the coalition government’s workfare scheme. The demonstrators generally won a sympathetic reaction from the public, and the contribution of local musicians provided a much-needed morale boost as the skies opened.

The term ‘workfare’ is being used to describe a number of government programmes, and the upshot of them all is that unemployed people are compelled to give away their labour for free – often to extremely profitable corporations – or risk losing their barely subsistence level benefits. This is an attack on all working class people, because it exerts downward pressure on wages, and encourages the replacement of paid jobs with unpaid schemes, contributing to a recessionary spiral of unemployment.

Our first target was health food outlet Holland & Barrett’s Whitechapel shop. In spite of its ‘ethical’ branding, H&B are seeking to augment last year’s £44 million pre-tax profits by exploiting free labour. Few crossed our picket line during the hour we were there, with far more taking leaflets and discussing workfare with us. After maybe half an hour a couple of cops appeared, and they talked with the store manager before proceeding to watch from a distance.

We then moved on to Argos (£106.9 million profit last year) on Bold Street. Some of us stayed outside with banners, while others went inside to ‘occupy’ the catalogue spaces. Police joined them, and again our action received lots of public support. At one point, the manager of the shop next door emerged and confronted us, threatening to “tear the banners down”. The plod escorted him back inside, so it was clear they had been told to more or less leave us be, and wait for the action to end in its own time.

Our final stop was Tesco, who feel the need not to pay workers despite making £3.9 billion last year. When some of our number went inside, the manager became visibly upset, and asked Liverpool’s finest if it would be okay to lock them in! Having presumably been warned that this might be legally dubious, he backed away from that threat. But the Bold Street branch had very few paying customers over the next hour, as again, many more seemed to take note of our demonstration.

It was a successful afternoon’s work, but the fight goes on! Liverpool activists are gearing up for a month of actions, in the run-up to the early July national week of action called by the Boycott Welfare conference. If you can’t make it to physical pickets, communications blockades are also being planned. Please get involved in any way you can, because an injury to one truly is an injury to all!