In support of the IWA Days of action in the UK, the Solidarity Federation called for campaign of direct action against workfare. The idea was to use the IWA 3 Days of action to launch a concerted campaign to put an end to unpaid work. This is in support of the ongoing Boycot Workfare campaign, that is being organised in conjunction with numerous other groups and organisations.
At a time of unprecedented youth unemployment in the UK , which now stands at over 22%, the government is subsidising businesses by sending the unemployed to work for them without pay and with the new Youth Contract it intends to expand these schemes even further.
The decision on which company to target was left to just before the Days of action to ensure that the company chosen were not alerted to the planned demos and pickets. After discussion within the Solidarity Federation it was decided to target the company Holland and Barratt a major high street chain of shops selling health products. The SolFed decided to target Holland and Barratt because the company intends to take over 1000 people on work experience this year and with a workforce of around 4000, unpaid workers will comprise a significant portion of their staff.
On the 29thn & 30th March SF groups and supporters around the country distributed information to Holland & Barrett staff explaining basic workplace rights. A leaflet was also distributed to customers and passers by. A copy of the leaflet can be down loaded at : http://www.solfed.org.uk/sites/default/files/uploads/workfarehb.pdf
On the 31st March Holland & Barrett shops in over 20 cities and towns across the UK were picketed. In some places several Holland & Barrett shops were picketed on the same day. For example in Brighton SF members came together with Brighton Benefits Campaign and others to form two pickets at the North Street and London Road branches of Holland and Barratt. With the North Street picket attended to by around 20 people and the smaller branch at London Road picketed by about a dozen, both were well attended and succeeded in turning away a considerable number of potential customers and raising the profile of the anti-workfare campaign.
The Pickets in generally were well received with thousands of anti-workfare leaflets distributed. For example in Kilburn one member of the public stopped by for half and hour to help us do some leafleting. Others took the opportunity to go into the store and express their dissatisfaction directly to the Holland and Barrett manager on duty at the time. Similar stories of public support were recived from numerous pickets.
In a couple of places the pickets managed to close down stores. In London one local Holland & Barrett store closed as 20+ SLSF and comrades chanted, sang and dished out leaflets. In various places Holland & Barrett made feeble attempts aimed at trying to counter the effectiveness of the pickets. In Halifax Holland & Barrett had a member of staff on the door to "welcome shoppers." These pathetic counter measures only served to show just how worried Holland and Barrett were about the impact the pickets.
The Solidarity Federation hopes to build on the success of the Holland & Barrett pickets and aims to join with other campaigning and anarchist groups to step up the pickets on the companies using the workfare scheme. On Monday April 2nd a picket of the headquarters of the reformist Communication Workers Union was held to protest over their support for workfare. The first of many more pickets we are determined to mount until the government is forced to withdraw the whole of the workfare scheme.
Further accounts of some other pickets are available on the Workfare pages of the SolFed website: http://www.solfed.org.uk/?q=campaigns/workfare