Today Mid-Lin Day Care Centre was holding an open day, providing a perfect setting for a bit of leafleting. The Centre has been a long-term workfare exploiter, and as they have failed to respond to any of our letters and emails, we thought we would ask the people going into the open day to ‘Please tell Mid-Lin Day Care Centre to STOP USING FORCED UNPAID LABOUR’. As the leaflet explained, ‘We told the centre that we will be here today in order to give them time to deny that they are still exploiting people via this system; as we have heard nothing from them we can only assume the worst.’
The sun was shining, the band was playing behind the grim spiked fence, and we were able to explain to some of those going in the difference between genuine volunteering and forced unpaid labour. John was able to tell them directly that not only had it not helped him find a job, but that as someone who had worked in hotel kitchens he hadn’t appreciated being forced to skivvy in the Centre’s kitchen for nothing and did not need the ‘experience’ for his CV. Of course there are always those people who don’t want to know, but we hope we have made some others think – including Shona Robison MSP who we leafleted as she left. As it was a relatively small event, we distributed the rest of our leaflets through the letter boxes of the surrounding houses.
Although the Mandatory Work Activity scheme is finished and no more people are being made to do Community Work Placements, there is still scope for unemployed people to be forced into mandatory unpaid work through the Work Programme, and organisations such as Mid-Lin make this modern slavery possible. There are plenty of schemes for genuine volunteering, so it is difficult to see why Mid-Lin are so resistant to ending this exploitation, especially as it must be better for everyone to have workers who actually want to be there.
This afternoon around 50 people came to give noisy solidarity to workfare slaves and exploited workers at The Range in Lochee.
In an attempt to salvage their reputation the store had produced their own leaflet for the occasion to give to shoppers who had passed through our picket. This consisted of testimonies from two employees who – unlike many people we have been in touch with – were actually given a paid job after their stint of unpaid labour, and were sickeningly grateful about being rewarded for their slavery with a chance to earn a living with this shockingly exploitative employer. They read like something written by followers of a cult, expressing their devotion to the system that has enslaved them – or by someone with their employer leaning over their shoulder: perfect examples of the cowed yes-men that the DWP would like everyone to become.
A shop such as The Range does not create jobs. Its ruthless employment practices and use of unpaid labour allow it to undercut other businesses that treat their workers decently and pay them properly – as we explain in our own leaflet. Range workers are forced to work 12 hour shifts days together and we have seen allegations of sexual impropriety by management and of attempts to get rid of workers who are over 25 to avoid paying them the higher minimum wage.
Our fight against exploitation brings together unemployed and employed workers: those who took up the loud hailer at this joint SUWN/Dundee Trades Council demo included Mike Arnott from the Trades Council, Tony Cox and Sarah Glynn from SUWN, Arthur Nicoll from Unison, Carlo Morelli from UCU, Mike Taylor and Andy Duncan from Dundee Against Austerity, Leah Ganley from TUSC and Gareth Norman from Solidarity; and there were also folk there from USDAW, RIC Angus and Mearns, and – bringing solidarity from the capital city – Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty, as well as several folk who live close by in Lochee.
Police were called to the store, but never spoke to us. They were in there for a long time. Perhaps they were looking at all those bargains for things they never knew they wanted – or perhaps they were hoping that we would try and protest inside and they could arrest us from not leaving.
Before we had quite exhausted our own leaflet pile we re-formed the demo into a march down Lochee High Street, with more speeches and leafleting in front of the Mary Brooksbank statue – and several speakers drew parallels with the dreadful employment practices of the mills that once occupied the same area. We won’t be dragged back to the Nineteenth Century.
More protests are planned – so watch this space.
In response to the mass of critical evidence submitted to the House of Commons enquiry into sanctions, the government proudly announced (last October) a handful of tinker-round-the-edges changes. Chief among these was a ‘yellow card’ early warning system for sanctions, which has just begun a trial run in Scotland (everywhere but the north, which is supposed to provide a comparison). The much-heralded concession is meant to give claimants heading for a sanction an additional 14 days to provide reason and evidence for their alleged misdemeanour; hardly a major improvement as most will probably get sanctioned anyway.
Well, that is what’s meant to happen, but this is the DWP. A man we met at our busy stall outside Dundee buroo yesterday had just then been informed that he was going to be sanctioned and had 14 days to submit reasons for being late to a Work Programme appointment. But he was also told that the fourteen day period had begun 2 weeks ago, so he needed to get his response in there and then.
And another problem in the DWP ‘system’. This is the second time in a row that I have been about to accompany someone into their PIP assessment, only for them to be told on the morning of their appointment – after a sleepless night – that it has been cancelled.