Wednesday, 4 July 2012

The last post

This will be my last post on Truth, Reason & Liberty.

The blog has, for the last couple of months, been winding down naturally. It has become little more than a holding pen for posts that have also appeared on the Liverpool Antifascists and Solidarity Federation sites. Particularly when organising the workfare campaign consumed huge amounts of my time, I could never sit down and write the kind of in-depth analysis of current affairs elsewhere that I used to.

Ending this blog also represents changes that I will be making in my personal life. I remain resolutely anti-fascist and anarcho-communist, but I will be stepping back from front line activism. A number of very recent events have made me realise that I have allowed it to take over my life at the expense of personal relationships - most importantly the one under my own roof. As that will and should always come first, I have found it necessary to stop and get my priorities - not to mention my life - in order.

As already stated, my politics haven't changed. I still support LiverAF and Solfed and hope to see them continue to go from strength to strength in my absence. Revolutionary, libertarian politics are more relevant than ever now and it is vital that those who hold them continue to organise, spread those ideas and take direct action wherever possible.

In the immediate term, I would encourage everyone to get involved in the national week of action against workfare. If you can't find any actions where you are, then set one up and do something!

As for me, I'll continue to organise in my workplace from a militant, libertarian communist perspective. I'll continue to tweet inaninties and profundities alike. I'll still be using my blog whenever inspiration strikes and/or I need to rant about a subject. But I'll also be putting home and family life first, as I haven't done for too long.

I'm proud of what I've accomplished in just four years of being active in Liverpool. I'm also glad to have met so many of the great friends and comrades I have along the way. But, the revolution or a fascist military coup notwithstanding, I've got other things I need to be getting on with.

Health and anarchy!

Friday, 29 June 2012

Anarchists and trade unionists rattle Iain Duncan Smith in Bootle

Today (Friday 29 June), Iain Duncan Smith went to Bootle in what was planned as a low-key visit to Department for Work and Pensions offices. Instead it was the scene of a lively picket where local anarchists joined trade unionists from the area to oppose the capinet minister's arrival.

Obviously none of the ministers from the current government are popular with most working class people. Duncan Smith deserves particular attention because of his role in workfare - including lying in parliament about the "success" of the schemes.

He has also name-dropped anarchists on more than one occasion, from crediting us with wrecking the Work Experience scheme to more recently admitting that "I sometimes get confused as to who the anarchists are and who the Labour Party members are." With the absence of the Labour Party from his welcoming committee in Bootle, we would hope he now gets the distinction.

Notice of the visit came only days earlier, on the back of which text messages and emails were sent around to get people down for an impromptu protest. Roughly ten anarchists, including members of Solidarity Federation and Anarchist Federation, turned up alongside members of the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) and pensioners from the Unite community branch. The main picket waited at the entrance to the car park, whilst a handful of people gathered at the front entrance in case he decided to make his way in there.

Whilst we waited, a very nervous manager from the building stood with us, urging us out of the road every time a car approached. His aim was to ensure that the Work and Pensions minister's arrival was unimpeded by the protest. We had other plans, however, and the tone of his voice every time he asked us to "move out the way, please," suggested he knew it.

When at last Duncan Smith's ministerial car arrived, most of the around thirty demonstrators were stood blocking its entry into the car park. The driver edged forward, trying to nudge people out of the way, whilst the manager pleaded ever more desperately with us to be nice. Unfortunately, the car appeared to be making headway as many of the trade union demonstrators shifted to the side.

It was at this point that a female Solidarity Federation member parked her bike right in the car's path and refused to move. Other anarchists moved to join her and maintain the road block. The car still tried to move forward, but eventually the driver had to accept he was beaten and stop.

Now, PCS officials moved forward to reclaim the situation, asking that they be allowed to hand Duncan Smith a letter. This would apparently be the condition for him being allowed to move on. Incredibly, he got out of the car to take the letter from the North West Regional Secretary whilst trying to ignore everyone else around him who was heckling him with relish. Though he tried to hide it, his face was taut with discomfort.

He hastily accepted the request for a meeting with PCS following his other business in the office, before the manager escorted him as fast as possible from the picket and those less willing to sit down and talk with him.

Once he was gone, we allowed the driver to enter the car park and park up. That concluded the picket, and it is safe to say that it is as succesful as it probably could have been. The tactic of "lobbying" ministers is only likely to yield results on largely uncontroversial issues that have no bearing on class conflict. In this case, it is far more effective - and gratifying - to force them to confront our anger head on, however briefly.

Video via here.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

A4e Liverpool feel the impact of another picket and communications blockade

On Tuesday 26 June, Liverpool Solidarity Federation called a picket and a communications blockade against A4e in Liverpool. Both were well attended, with up to a dozen people joining in the afternoon picket whilst countless people from around the country jammed up phone and fax lines throughout the day.

From the morning, we were getting reports that the communications blockade was having its desired effect. People were hung up on as soon as they even mentioned the work programme, re-directed to central phone lines and met with exasperated staff on the other end of the line. By the afternoon, there were huge delays in answering calls and the fax machine was switched off - no doubt due to the huge volume of literature, complaints and sheer nonsense clogging it up.

By comparison, the actual picket was rather muted. Unlike last time, the building owner never made an appearence to have a go at us, whilst the police appeared for all of two minutes. They literally parked near the picket, glowered at us for a bit, then disappeared. In the meantime, we carried on with what we were there for.

Liverpool Solfed members were as ever joined by other local anarchists who have been extremely proactive in the workfare campaign from the beginning. We handed out a couple of hundred leaflets to largely receptive passers-by, spoke to claimants using the A4e offices and received a number of supportive honks from passing cars. As on previous actions, we had people wishing us well in our campaign and keen to point out that their own pedigree as trade unionists whilst cheering us on.

After two hours, we wrapped up and moved on. But this will not be our last visit to A4e. Like "ethical" workfare providers Holland & Barrett, the profiteers will soon be sick of the sight of us. We will certainly be paying them at least one visit during the national week of action against workfare.

Until then, our next action will see us return to Asda in Wavertree this Saturday. It seems that our last action has already had an impact on their trade, and we need to maintain that pressure in order to break the back of those exploiting the unemployed. Make sure that you come along and get involved, to add to our collective weight. This campaign doesn't end until workfare does.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Liverpool maintains the momentum against workfare

Another Saturday, another round of direct action against workfare providers in Liverpool. Members of Liverpool Solidarity Federation were joined by other local anarchists and activists to picket Holland & Barrett and Argos in the City Centre. The lively pickets saw 600 leaflets distributed and a number of shoppers turned away from both stores.

When we arrived at the main Holland & Barrett store in town, the security guard immediately got on the phone to the police. When they arrived, they took no action against us, but a complaint by the manager that our picket had abused staff (a claim which was entirely untrue) suggests that the continued pressure is starting to have an effect. Whilst the response from the public varied from largely ambivalent to positive and supportive, local security were clearly extremely hostile.

Over the next half an hour, security guards and other heavies arrived at the shop until a crowd of them were huddled just inside the entrance. A number of them were recogniseable from an incident last year when guards attacked a UK Uncut protest, and at least one of them was friends with prominent members of local far-right groups. They repeatedly left the shop in ones or twos to stand across the road and glare at us before returning inside. Once the picket was wrapping up and we were ready to move on, they all stepped outside to continue staring at us, presumably to make themselves feel hard in the absence of any excuse to actually pick a fight.

Their behaviour didn't intimidate us, however. We stayed for the same length of time as normal on these actions, moving on to Argos of our own accord.

At Argos we continued to hand out leaflets and talk to shoppers about Argos's involvement in workfare. Here, we were joined by local musicians who - as two weeks ago - added a lively soundtrack to the action. We stayed here for another hour and a half, until we had fully run out of leaflets, before finally packing up and calling it a day.

Alongside the pickets, we had called an all day communications blockade against the Liverpool Holland & Barrett store. This was picked up and supported by anti-workfare campaigners nationwide, so we're willing to bet that the disruption we caused on the doors was matched by that to their phone lines.

We will be returning to the city centre once more for the beginning of the national week of action against workfare on 7 July. In the meantime, there will be another communications blockade against profiteers A4e on Tuesday, and another day of action in Wavertree next Saturday. Make sure that you get involved because the more of us there are, the bigger impact we can make!

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Anti-workfare activity at Bootle Jobcentre Plus

Today, activists including Liverpool Solidarity Federation members held an informational picket at Jobcentre Plus in Bootle. There, we handed out advice leaflets and Solfed workfare pamphlets to claimants, alongside more general leaflets to the public.

In all, we stayed there for about an hour and a half. The response we had from claimants and members of the public alike was overwhelmingly positive. Most took our leaflets gratefully, whilst more than a few people stopped to chat about workfare and our campaign against it. Several trade unionists from the local council also promised to take the information back to their branches as it affected their staff as well.

Given the responses that we got today, we will look to return to Bootle in the near future with more high profile action. We will also be looking to expand our Jobcentre-specific leafleting, which has so far occurred in Wavertree and Toxteth as well as Bootle. Workfare is an issue affecting people everywhere, but particularly in those areas hit by greater levels of poverty and unemployment. Talking to and empowering those who face having to do it is always a valuable first step towards succesful actions.

In the meantime, this Saturday we are holding another day of action against workfare providers in the City Centre. We urge everyone who can to come along and get involved. Even if you can't make it, there will be a communications blockade of Holland & Barrett - one of the prime targets of the Solfed campaign - that you can take part in from the comfort of your own home.

The fight against workfare is really gathering steam now, and people are really starting to get behind it virtually everywhere we go. The task now is to keep up that momentum, and bring welfare-to-work in all forms to a halt, once and for all!

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Liverpool Antifascists benefit gig - 6 July

Reposted from Liverpool Antifascists

On Friday 6 July, the Next to Nowhere social centre is playing host to an array of acts, all donating their time to raise money for the fight against fascism. Come along, bring friends and bring your own booze, and enjoy a night of top quality local ska and punk.

Doors at 7.30. Entrance £3.

You can RSVP on Facebook here.

Map here.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Statement on sexual harassment within the Liverpool activist community

What follows is a statement drafted by the feminist group Angry Women of Liverpool and signed by a number of individuals and organisations. It concerns a specific individual, whose behaviour is utterly unacceptable in any walk of life, but also addresses a wider issue that has for too long been inadequately dealt with.

Because sexual harassment within activist circles has not been dealt with for such a time, this action has caused a stir. Predictably, defenders of misogyny came forward to suggest that this was somehow an evil or malicious act, and it should be made clear that in this scenario the presumption of innocence is the presumption that the victim is lying. Nobody should be the victim of deliberate false charges, but by the same token the accounts of those who face such actions should not be taken lightly nor left alone until a jury in some bourgeois courtroom passes a guilty verdict - especially given that such is all too rare.

I also wholeheartedly endorse the statement by the North London, South London and Brighton locals of Solidarity Federation, which tackles this issue more broadly.


We, as survivors, opponents of sexual violence, feminists and/or feminist allies have taken the decision to publicly oppose and name a man within the activist and anarchist community who we know to have repeatedly sexually harassed several young women*. This harassment is known to have taken place in person, via social media and/or text message.

*All references to women refer to any self identified women.

The individual concerned, Paul Cunliffe, of Merseyside, has sexually harassed young women within both the local and UK-wide anarchist and activist movement. This has caused varied impacts upon their lives, and the lives of other women who are aware of his actions. One woman for example, quit activism due to Cunliffe’s aggression towards her when she rejected his unwanted sexual advances.

Presently we are aware of six different women affected, of the four we have spoken to, two declined to make a public statement - a decision we completely support - with one too fearful for her safety to do so. However another two women have offered brief descriptions of what happened to them:
My communications with Paul Cunliffe occurred for several months when I was 17 years old. He first contacted me via the internet, where he began talking to me most days, and most of the time I replied amiably, out of a wish not to offend. After a while speaking online, some of his conversations became inappropriate. I told him at this time that I was not interested in pursuing a romantic or sexual relationship with him, but he persisted in making sexual jokes, which, as he was ten years older than me, made me feel uncomfortable. He became seemingly obsessed with me, made several comments about us having sex, sent text messages referencing sexual acts, and told me that he had masturbated over me. This was all done when he was in full knowledge that I was not interested in him. I didn’t want to upset him if I would have to see him again, as I knew he was capable of violence, and so I didn’t feel able to tell him outright to stop. He apologised several times for his behaviour, but it continued. Towards the end of our contact he was talking to me every day on social media, and sometimes became annoyed or upset if I ignored him. He was also verbally abusive towards a friend of mine. Our contact ended when he sent me a final message, in which he swore at me and insulted me. I would urge all women to be very careful about getting involved with him – I wish that I never had. Having had time to reflect on the events, if anything similar happened again, I believe I would feel forced to contact the police in concern for my welfare.”
A second woman, Romana, who has waived the anonymity we offered her, has told us the following:
It was December 2011 when I started talking to Paul via DM on Twitter. We’d been interacting since November or October, as I was going through a stressful time with both religion and anarchy which are opposed each other. He was polite, joked around and gave me advice. He is an anarchist who tried to explain things which I found helpful and I could also talk to him about problems at home such as violence which built a trust bond.

I first put a picture of myself on Twitter in December, after which he contacted me and said it was attractive. I said thank you, as at the time I thought he was saying it in a friendly way because he hadn’t made any advances at this point. He asked for my number and I gave it as I trusted him. He then texted me sexual comments. I said I was 16 and he said he had thought I was older and made another sexual comment. At the time I was going through confused feelings and he being someone I looked up to and trusted, I responded initially.

He then started to take sexual comments a bit further at which point I felt uncomfortable but was worried that if I did not respond at least politely that he’d take offence and accuse me publicly of things, as he’d said things about another girl he was involved with that made her out to be a bad person (I later found out that she’d rejected him). I very often would tell him I felt uncomfortable and wanted him not to say things. Quite a few times he texted me along the lines of ‘I’m horny, wondering what you’d do to turn me on’ or ‘I’m so hard right now’ and go on to tell me how he would have intercourse with me.

I started to feel very uncomfortable a few days after and told him I’m wasn’t in a good mental state and I’d like him to stop. He continued. I’d say ‘please stop, seriously…I really want you to stop’ and he’d continue to text sexual things or just ignore me and then on the next day/next few days I would receive a text along the same explicit sexual lines.

At one point I lost my temper and told him to leave me alone and he got very angry, after which I became fearful that he’d spread rumours about me making me out to be a bad person as he had done with two women by this point, so I apologised. We stopped talking for a month or two after but then he suddenly started speaking to me again, apologised for his behaviour and told me about some stuff he was going through for which I gave him some advice.

Towards the end of that correspondence he began to make sexual comments and I ignored him initially but began to feel uncomfortable and in the same position again, I thought he would say that I’d come on to him. As he was friends with James and I have a good friendship with James and I didn’t want him to turn James or any friends in Liverpool against me, I responded, feeling very upset and angry and helpless until he started to mention threesomes. He suggested having a threesome with Anna (Anna is 16) and a 17 year old friend of mine called Holly. He also suggested a threesome with a girl he’d been involved with.

I asked him to stop and said I was incredibly uncomfortable with him degrading other women like this. I eventually talked to Anna about the situation as she mentioned he perved on young women. On the same day Holly told me that he’d made sexual advances and suggested threesomes to her in a dm. She felt very uncomfortable and avoided the comments but he gave up eventually after asking outright if she was sexually interested in him. At this point I became very angry as not only had I found he’d been harassing other young women in Liverpool and talking about women as if they were objects for him to masturbate over, but he’d also been trying to put my friend in the same situation.

The next day I decided to do some research and told a girl he had been spreading nasty rumours about what he had said, and she was very upset and told me she was scared of him as he’d said some aggressively sexual things and she thought he sounded violent at times. I confronted him that day and told him enough was enough and I won’t allow him to put any more women in positions where they feel helpless or uncomfortable – shortly after this he deactivated Twitter and Facebook.
Due to abuse received from misogynists on social media websites regarding this statement, Romana has also written a piece for her own blog which can be found here.

The aims and purpose of this statement are three-fold:
  • To ensure that others, particularly women, are aware of his behaviour and thus can make an informed decision about whether they feel comfortable having any kind of relationship with him;
  • To ensure the safety of women, within Merseyside in particular, and to allow those who own or take care of places with a ‘safe spaces’ policy to consider whether they should continue to grant him access;
  • To encourage political organisations to consider their policy on the safety of their female members and how they can avoid compromising this.

We believe that misogyny, sexual aggression and violence are NEVER acceptable and that such consistent harassment shows blatant misogyny and disregard for the oppression that women face under patriarchy. A person cannot class themselves as an “Anarcho-Communist” and then show such misogynist aggression, which is diametrically opposed to the values Anarcho-Communism espouses.

We ask that women, men and groups share and sign this letter to create a network of support and solidarity for those involved in exposing Cunliffe’s behaviour and to minimise any potential backlash that may be caused by doing so. Perpetrators of harassment, aggression and violence towards women should not be allowed to continue to do so without repercussions and we urge all feminists, feminist allies and organisations who support women’s rights to endorse this statement.

In solidarity,
Angry Women of Liverpool

To sign the above statement, please email


Liverpool Solidarity Federation
Brighton Solidarity Federation
Merseyside Anarchist Federation
Edinburgh Anarchist Federation
Leila Davey (AWOL)
Emma Segar (AWOL, AFed)
Anna Fleur (SolFed)
Liam O’Brien (SolFed)
Claire Elliott (AWOL, AFed)
N. Gatch (AWOL)
Stacey Long
Hannah Ryan (AWOL, Merseyside Women’s Movement)
James Moffatt (SolFed)
Maria Ng (AWOL, News from Nowhere)
Adam Ford (The Commune)
Sean C (Anarchist Federation)
Jane Nolan
Sam Ambreen
Jane Calveley
Natalie Dzerins (Intersect)
Rhiannon Lowton (LRC)
Sam Talley
Sean Mollan (SolFed/Uncut/ACAB)
Jerry Spencer (Anarchist Federation)
Naomi Beecroft (EUSA Women’s Liberation Convenor)
Matt Moore (Anarchist Federation)
Kashka Georgeson (Merseyside LGBT Student’s Network, SWP).
Helen Holmes
Nicky Clark
Romana Begum (All London Anarchist Revolutionary Mob/ALARM)
Sam Rabin (ALARM)
Maev McDaid (President: University of Liverpool Friends of Palestine)
Paul Robinson (Anarchist Federation)
Toivo Hartikainen
Helen Sheridan (AWOL)
Andy Meinke (Editor Freedom Newspaper)
Louise Whittle (LRC)
James Cleveland (Brighton Feminist Collective)
Brendan O’Malley
Nyika S
Al Derby (Wolvo Anarchists)
Jacob Richardson
Anna Machell
Sarah Hickmott
Les Rich (SolFed and IWW IU 560 member)
Jasmine Pike
Pierre Lapin (Job Seeker’s Alliance)
Mark Lees
Takiyah Eshe Daly
Martyn West
Andy Bean
Emily Rice
Sean Court
Alison Banville
Jon Squires
Matt Moran
Omar Sahal
Anna White
Iain Hilton
Phil Dickens (SolFed)

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

A4e in Liverpool hit by picket and communications blockade

Today (12 June), around a dozen anti-workfare activists joined a picket of the Liverpool offices of A4e, called by Liverpool Solidarity Federation. At the same time, hundreds of people took part in our communications blockade of the same office - effectively jamming up the phone and fax lines for a considerable portion of the day.

The picket was, by the standard of recent actions against workfare, remarkably brief. As A4e was on an upper floor of a building with multiple tenants, any form of occupation was unviable. However, we did have an extremely visible presence outside the front doors, distributing Boycott Workfare leaflets (PDF) to the public and Solfed workfare pamphlets to claimants who had been referred to the company.

We had a number of conversations with claimants who shared their experiences of A4e with us, as well as with members of the public who wanted to know what was going on and were generally supportive.

The only opposition came from the owner of the building. When we arrived, a security guard told us we had to remain on the public highway. He tried to get us to move from right in front of the building, but we declined this request. For most of the afternoon, our picket passed without incident - but at every miniscule slip over the imaginary line where the land became "private property," either the guard or the owner would come out yelling. They even harassed a parent at the picket whenever her toddler wandered the wrong way!

Despite this, the day was succesful and we ended the brief picket knowing we had made an impact. But not as much of an impact as the communications blockade had. From playing music down the phone and pretending to order a pizza, to giving the staff an earful about their involvement in the work programme, opponents of workfare kept the lines tied up. So much so that desperate staff tried to re-direct people to a centralised contact centre number. Meanwhile, using a free internet fax service, supporters were able to waste the companies ink on complaint letters, random gibberish and even full length novels!

Everyone who got involved today has helped to make an impact on A4e, and the task now is to keep the pressure up. We will be returning to the Liverpool office soon enough, but this Thursday our target is Bootle - see here for details of the communications blockade. Not to mention that our Saturday direct action will continue, with Wavertree the target this week.

The fight against workfare is one we can win, if we fight hard and maintain focus. Get in touch with Liverpool Solfed if you want to be a part of what we're doing.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Lively picket kicks off hectic month in Liverpool anti-workfare campaign

On Saturday 9 June, Liverpool Solidarity Federation called action against workfare in the City Centre. Upwards of 40 people, including members of Solfed, the Anarchist Federation and the wider anarchist community in the city, took part. We were also pleased to have local musicians on board, providing a ska/punk soundtrack to the day's activities.

The first target was Holland and Barrett, which Solidarity Federation continue to target on a national scale due to its claim to be an "ethical" store. Here, we had lots of interest from passers by, with plenty coming over just to take a leaflet off us as well as a number of unemployed people expressing their support for the campaign and chatting about their own experiences with the various workfare schemes. We are pleased to say that a number of people refused to cross our picket, and that many who did came out shortly after with no purchases and our leaflets still in hand.

After a while, it was decided to move on to Argos. We marched through the main shopping area in the city centre, banners and flags aloft, the musicians continuing to play as we marched.

At Argos, there was an occupation as well as a picket, effectively disrupting trade and seeing a number of customers leave after taking leaflets. Again, there was a lot of support, as well as a chance to have a brief conversation with at least one member of staff about the effect workfare would have on their job. There was one brief altercation with the owner of the store next door, who complained that he would look guilty by association, and threatened to rip down our banner. However, again there was broad support and several additional people joined the action.

Marching through the streets once more, our final target was Tesco. Tesco has been a particularly misleading participant in the scheme, claiming to have withdrawn whilst in reality carrying on using the forced labour of claimants.

Here, again, we had both a picket and an occupation. We effectively managed to shut the store down for most of that time, with very few people venturing in and several happy to take our advice and use Sainsbury's around the corner as it has withdrawn from the scheme. We continued with the picket, and the lively song set, until we wrapped up the action for the day.

Overall, this was one of our most succesful anti-workfare actions yet. However, it doesn't end here - at our last meeting, Liverpool SF agreed on a series of pickets and other actions leading right up to the national week of action on 7-14 July, as called by the national conference in Brighton.

This coming week, alone, we are calling for two separate communications blockades of A4e - one for the Liverpool office, one for the Bootle office - and workfare pickets in the Wavertree area. If you support the campaign against workfare, we urge you to get involved in these actions in any way you can. Only by keeping up the pressure and using sustained direct action, can we shut down those who exploit us and end workfare.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Where now for the fight against workfare?

Since the action on 5 May, the campaign against workfare in Liverpool has almost ground to a halt. This has not been the case elsewhere - as even a quick glance at the Holland & Barrett tag on the Solidarity Federation website will attest. But it does highlight a difficulty with this issue that will have to be addressed in order to keep the campaign fresh an active.

This lack of activity is not going unaddressed. There will be a further action in the city centre on Saturday 9 June (Facebook event here), and a proposal is going forward to the next Solfed meeting for a fairly intensive schedule of actions over the next month. All of which is leading towards the national week of action against workfare on 7-14 July. This being one of the outcomes of the national conference called by the Brighton Benefits Campaign on 26 May.

A scene from the last action against workfare in Liverpool, on May 5
Nonetheless, it does underline how difficult it has been to kickstart some elements of the three-pronged strategy first agreed by Liverpool Solfed last November. From the first national day of action, initiated by one of our members through UK Uncut, the campaign has almost exclusively involved members of the local anarchist and activist milieu, whilst attempts to get claimants on board - let alone establish any kind of unemployed workers organisation - have seemingly gone nowhere. A comrade from the Anarchist Federation, in particular, clocked up loads of hours leafleting Job Centres and speaking to people, with almost no return. Solfed had a similar experience ahead of our action in Wavertree.

This doesn't mean that such attempts should stop. Far from it, as workfare is fundamentally an attack on the unemployed it should be they who are at the forefront of fighting it. Indeed we do have several unemployed workers heavily involved in the campaign. But this is an attack on the class as a whole, part of a more fundamental restructuring of the labour market, and even whilst it is proving difficult to get one specific form of organisation off the ground the attack must still be fought.

The other organisational aspect that is lacking is the workers within those companies that use workfare. Most providers are non-unionised, and when taking action we have been distributing leaflets encouraging staff to organise. But, again, people won't organise just on your say so and, though most have taken leaflets and reacted positively to the actions, there has been little follow through. The very real fear of retaliation by the bosses will be a consistent sticking point here, alongside things like high turnover, lack of militants in the workforce, etc.

The established unions, as in most struggles, are as much a hindrance as anything else. The most extreme case being the Communication Workers Union's support for workfare, which saw its headquarters picketed by Boycott Workfare, Solfed and the IWW. Other unions are slightly better, being prepared at least to pass resolutions against the scheme, but this has yet to translate into numbers on the ground at or taking the initiative with workfare pickets.

Image from a London workfare picket on May Day
The recent PCS conference highlighted some of the problems with trying to address this through the reformist unions. Whilst the motion in support of the campaign at the national conference passed overwhelmingly, the motion that passed on the issue at the Revenue & Customs Group Conference was a lot more problematic.

The motion made noises about how "workfare is 21st century slavery" and should be opposed, but then went on to say;
This conference instructs the GEC [Revenue & Customs Group Executive Committee] to ensure that HMRC does not agree to the Government Work Programme until such times as it is clear that:-

  • The scheme is entirely voluntary
  • The scheme does not breach any existing rules surrounding eligibility to receive JSA or other benefits
  • That any workfare participant who works longer than 16 hours per week is paid at NMW [National Minimum Wage] at the least, but preferably the same as any comparable worker in HMRC; and
  • That the parameters of the scheme are published by DWP clearly and unambiguously
I spoke against this, making the point that negotiating on the terms of workfare is essentially acceptance of it. Further, that even if we were able to obtain these guarantees, we would still have a second tier workforce which could be used to undercut existing staff. Unfortunately, despite these objections, the motion passed.

The national motion effectively supercedes it by setting union policy that is against the scheme at all. However, that both motions have gone through suggest that in most cases unions would take this line - opposing it before implementation, but negotiating its terms after. After all, as one member of the GEC said to me in defence of the motion once it had passed, that is the union's job.

But then the fight against workfare was always going to have to be done outside the trade unions. Their role will always be to seek a seat at the table, negotiating the terms of capitalism's adverse effects on the working class. Our aim is to stop these attacks dead and to attack capitalism itself.

South London Solidarity Federation picket Holland & Barrett on 19 May
Direct action is of course the most vital component of that fight. Propaganda work is essential in terms of getting people on board, and there has been a knock-on effect of providers pulling out early over "bad publicity" fears. However, this amounts to a microcosm of what sustained direct action can achieve - damage to profit margins. Those first providers who "bottled it" did so from a fear that the negative publicity would lead to people boycotting their stores en masse. This evidently hasn't been the case, underlining that a reliance on consumer boycotts is problematic at best for a variety of reasons, but pickets and occupations that shut stores down on a regular basis can cause far more damage in the same respect.

It does have to be sustained, though, as the case of Holland & Barrett is proving. The Trots jumped in to grab headlines at the point when interest was at its highest, but have quickly lost interest and moved on now that not everybody is folding as fast. Then there are plenty of people who are exclusively activists and will leave it to others to do the organising, drifting onto a new cause if that doesn't happen. Thus, the real difficuly comes from making sure there is a sizeable group of people properly committed to keeping the campaign going.

This will probably always be a tension in the workers' movement in its current state - between a reliance on "activism" to sustain momentum and the need for people who are more than just activists. This dynamic will change in the face of more victories and thus the class becoming more confident in itself. But we still have a long way to go to reach that point, and so that central contradiction remains.

In struggling through it, I would urge everybody who has a stake in this to get involved. There are and will continue to be shortcomings to this campaign, as I have sketched out above. But as long as we're willing to look at them honestly and do our best to overcome them - learning from any mistakes we make along the way - there's no reason this fight cannot be won.