Demonstrators opposing workfare and sanctions blockaded a large Salvation Army charity shop in central Edinburgh on 7th December. The approximately 40 protestors included some unemployed people who had themselves been press-ganged to work for nothing in Salvation Army charity shops.
IF YOU EXPLOIT US WE WILL SHUT YOU DOWN was the clear message on a giant banner which demonstrators held right across the front entrance of the Earl Grey Street shop. Threats of arrest for obstruction were defied and the blockade continued for two hours. The police officer in charge could be seen frantically calling on his radio for reinforcements, but no more polis arrived – doubtless due to cutbacks….. Meanwhile the Rhythms of Resistance samba band raised spirits, improvising some new anti workfare beats…..
The Salvation Army is almost certainly the main user of the Mandatory Work Activity scheme in Edinburgh and Britain-wide is one of the most prominent users of forced labour amongst the charity sector. Large numbers of unemployed people are being forced onto Mandatory Work Activity in Edinburgh by the Jobcentres, often in clear contradiction to the DWP’s own guidance. Demo organisers Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty (ECAP) are fighting several cases where unemployed people are resisting being sent on MWA. “If you are in this position, being forced onto any workfare scheme, do get in touch to seek solidarity,” say ECAP.
Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty say: “We now intend to step up our activity against the Salvation Army to force them to withdraw from workfare. This supposedly charitable organisation is responsible for people being sanctioned and left penniless after they have been ordered to work for nothing in Salvation Army shops on the Mandatory Work Activity scheme. We call them the Starvation Army.”
The private company learndirect who run MWA in Edinburgh have stated that they have very few charities willing to be involved in the MWA in Edinburgh due to the controversy caused by charities involvement in the Work Programme, when demonstrators occupied Edinburgh British Heart Foundation shops on several occasions. So if the Salvation Army can be pressurised to pull out, the whole MWA scheme in Edinburgh could be in real difficulty. “Our actions are having a real affect,” say Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty, “we can be encouraged to step things up and make workfare unworkable.”
The action, organised by Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty and supported by other groups including Black Triangle and the IWW, was part of the Britain-wide week of action against sanctions and workfare organised through the Boycott Workfare network. There have been actions in many areas, plus on-line protests, and the preceding fortnight saw intensive leafleting of Edinburgh job centres including High Riggs, Leith, Musselburgh and Wester Hailes.
EDINBURGH COALITION AGAINST POVERTY is based at the Autonomous Centre of Edinburgh (ACE), an open campaign space, infoshop and wholefoods co-op, providing resources and solidarity. Resources available include computer/internet access, cheap copying, free leaflets, books, pamphlets and mags for sale, a small wholefoods shop, and a library.
Every tuesday from 12 noon till 3pm support and solidarity is available for benefits and debt hassles, housing and other problems. Please contact us at Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty c/o ACE, 17 West Montgomery Place, Edinburgh EH7 5HA 0131 557 6242 firstname.lastname@example.org We invite you to join our solidarity phone tree, and get involved.
ACE is also open every Saturday 11am-6pm and Thursday 6-8pm, and other times for particular events (but the support and solidarity sessions are only on Tuesdays).