Demonstrators opposing compulsory work for benefits invaded two branches of Tescos and picketed Poundstretcher and British Heart Foundation in Edinburgh today Saturday 3rd March. Police dragged protestors out of Tescos, provoking protests and a virtual blockade of the store entrance by the police themselves. Protests continued along the Bridges area of the city centre for almost 3 hours.
Initiated by Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty, the Edinburgh protest was one of 37 throughout the UK. The Boycott Workfare network called the Day of Action to oppose the government’s “workfare” schemes and companies profiting from “free forced labour”.
After gathering at Hunter Square in the Old Town, demonstrators moved off to companies participating in the “workfare” schemes. A picket started at Tescos on South Bridge. Meanwhile a second group marched into Tescos on Nicolson Street, distributing letters which proclaimed support for better wages and conditions for the workforce and promised Tescos bosses that unless they withdrew from workfare “our demonstrations at Tescos will continue and intensify.” Police moved in to force demonstrators out of the store, but the protest continued for well over an hour at the entrance and frontage.
A delegation entered British Heart Foundation on Nicolson Street to explain to the manager that significant numbers of local unemployed people had complained about being forced by A4e to work in BHF charity shops for nothing. One man described to the manager how he had been ordered to sit in a freezing basement in a BHF shop for hours without even any work to do.
Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty delivered a letter to British Heart Foundation pointing out that the exploitation of the Work Programme is now about to get even worse as many sick and disabled people on Employment and Support Allowance are to be subject to forced unpaid labour. ECAP’s letter insisted “that BHF withdraws completely from the Work Programme and all workfare schemes,” or face demonstrations at their shops.
Around 50-strong in all, the demonstrators now joined together in one group and staged another concerted invasion of Tescos, this time on South Bridge. Stickers sprouted on freezers and placards proclaiming WORKFARE EXPLOITATION were displayed in the aisles. The police manhandled people out of the store, drawing protests from demonstrators and the store entrance was effectively blocked for some time by a line of police. The final port of call was nearby Poundstretcher where the frontage was taken over by the protestors’ banners denouncing “A4enslavement” and “Forced work for our benefits.”
Approaching 1,000 leaflets were distributed, denouncing that “Forced labour for no wage is an assault on human dignity” and arguing that workfare “undermines expected living standards across society. If compulsory free labour becomes commonplace, paid jobs become scarcer and we all suffer.” Urging “we can all play our part in throwing this vile scheme on the scrapheap”, the demonstrators promise “plenty more action to come.”