On Monday, 35 protesters gathered outside McDonalds inSheffieldcity centre to voice their disgust at the ConDems’ forced labour schemes. Currently, people claiming jobseekers’ allowance (JSA) stand to have their benefits taken away if they refuse to take part in mandatory work schemes, some up to 35 hours per week. This is equivalent to being paid as little as £1.78 per hour, and is the result of a cosy business relationship between the government and many of theUK’s largest corporations.
Youth Fight for Jobs and education has been spearheading the campaign against workfare inSheffield. However, whilst the campaign is having clear successes, forcing the withdrawal of companies such as Burger King, TKMaxx and Poundland, it is only by building a mass movement of workers, unemployed and students that we can change society and win a genuine programme of job creation.
Many members of the public we spoke to in handing out leaflets were unaware that the scheme was mandatory, or that jobseekers could lose their JSA if they refused to take part. Clearly, the concerted media campaign to dub workfare as ‘work experience’, and to vilify opponents of the scheme as a "handful of communists" (George Eustace MP, BBC interview 25/2/2012) has had some success, and this must be combated by our campaigns – by handing out factsheets to members of the public, by one-to-one discussion, and by approaching staff within workfare employers, through unions if possible. We should demand that youth are not left on the scrapheap, that decent jobs with decent pay are provided to all, and that education and apprenticeships are made available to all young people and the unemployed. We refuse to be a lost generation!