Anti workfare demonstrators in Edinburgh shut down the British Heart Foundation furniture store at the Kirkgate shopping centre for over two hours on Saturday 8 September. The Leith store closed its doors as demonstrators arrived before noon, and didn't attempt to reopen till after 2pm. Protestors blocked the shop door with a giant banner IF YOU EXPLOIT US WE WILL SHUT YOU DOWN.
Demo organisers Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty condemned BHF’s participation in the government workfare schemes. These programmes mean unemployed people are compelled to work for their benefits - or their benefit is cut. “These schemes punish the unemployed, attack all workers' wages and conditions and actually cause more unemployment, due to the replacement of paid workers by unpaid labour,” say ECAP. Opposition to workfare has grown and many major companies and charities such as Oxfam, Marie Curie, Shelter, TK Maxx, BHS, HMV, Sainsburys, Waterstones, Boots, Holland & Barret no longer participate in the schemes.
Protestors also stood with banners right across the entrance at another nearby BHF shop on Great Junction Street, defying police orders to move, and causing custom to be greatly reduced. “Many people turned away when BHF's participation in slave labour schemes was explained,” stressed ECAP.
STEPPING UP ACTIONS
Letters were delivered to the BHF managers, workers and volunteers, explaining the action was not directed against them but against the BHF top managers and the government. “Today’s demonstrators included an unemployed man forced by A4e to go to this BHF store on the Kirkgate under threat of having his benefits stopped,” stated ECAP. “We have phoned BHF several times and written to their Head Office, but they are ignoring the rights of the unemployed. Now we will be stepping up our actions until they withdraw from all workfare schemes. And we are issuing a warning to the other charities and companies involved – these include Barnardos, the Salvation Army and the PDSA - if you don’t withdraw from workfare we will shut your premises down too.”
“Many genuine volunteers at BHF are against the charity’s involvement in compulsory schemes,” explained ECAP. “We met one ex-volunteer for BHF who stopped working there because the shop was full of disgruntled unemployed people who were angry at being there. He said several long-term volunteers had left.”
Many unemployed people are even being forced to give up their voluntary work to do mandatory placements with other charities. Research by Third Sector shows several charities have lost long-term, skilled volunteers at short notice because they have been placed on the Work Programme or other government-run work training programmes.
Saturday’s protest was part of a UK-wide Day of Action against workfare organised through the Boycott Workfare Network, and focused on charities involved in workfare. ECAP urge: “The fight against workfare is part of an international struggle against austerity. Governments and the ruling class everywhere are trying to make ordinary people pay for the crisis of the profit-dominated capitalist system. We need to resist. And it's no use relying on politicians or leaders – we need to get organised ourselves and take direct action. It's our world, let's take it back.”
Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty www.edinburghagainstpoverty.org.uk firstname.lastname@example.org
Boycott Workfare www.boycottworkfare.org
Third Sector http://www.thirdsector.co.uk/Governance/article/1114544/analysis-charities-frustrated-volunteers-put-work-schemes/