There are some businesses that thrive on poverty, and Poundstretcher is one of them. Poor people shop there because it is cheap – and one reason it can be so cheap is that people are forced to work there for free or lose their benefits, under the DWP’s Mandatory Work Activity scheme: probably some of the same people who they rely on as customers.
Last week one of our SUWN activists was told to report to Poundstretcher in Dundee this morning, along with a group of around 8 other people on JSA. He was not happy, and yesterday he delivered a letter to Learndirect who arranged the placement. This made clear that it was not reasonable, even in their own terms, to expect a skilled IT engineer who had been unemployed only 9 weeks to do a placement designed to ‘develop disciplines associated with employment’. It also pointed out that stacking shelves at Poundstretcher does not comply with the Mandatory Work Activity Provider Guidance requirements that placements are of ‘community benefit’ and ‘not at the expense of employing workers in the open market’. Poundstretcher serves no community function, and their employees have been refused a request for more hours. However it was made clear to him that if he didn’t turn up he could be facing a 13 week benefit sanction. So, this morning, he duly checked in – and we duly set up a protest with banners and chants outside the gates.
It seems that yesterday’s letter made them rethink their plans. No other DWP slaves were there, so we can only assume that their start was rescheduled so that they weren’t corrupted. As others have done before, our activist refused to sign the documents he was given by Poundstretcher – which they can’t make you do. He was then told he should leave. We wait to see what happens next, but he will probably be sent a letter by the DWP and will have to make it clear that he participated fully in all that was asked – he just didn’t sign the papers.
Poundstretcher staff called the police, but this time the police seem to have had the sense not to come out to a perfectly legitimate protest. We did have a reporter from the local paper though, so we hope that more people will see how the UK is developing a third class labour force, paid only on benefits, and undercutting even minimum wage jobs. Perhaps the other potential DWP slaves will hear about the protest too.
The one sour note was from an angry member of staff who wasn’t interested in why we were there and only wanted to tell us that his poor working conditions were the fault of ‘immigrants’. We still have a lot to do to counter the tabloid propaganda.
No-one puts it better than Kevin Bridges – so for youse who haven’t already seen it, and even if you have, here’s his take on workfare at Pounstretcher.