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One of the Boycott Workfare campaign’s slogans is ‘It Could be You’. And with workfare still spreading, don’t discount the possibility.
Some firms pulled out of the programme after the public outcry—but many are still in, including Asda and Argos. Both sent staff home at Christmas last year and replaced them with workfare labour.
A staff member at Holland and Barratt—Boycott Workfare’s target for a week of action starting July 7—has reported that overtime is no longer available, as workfare has replaced it.
Meanwhile the government is introducing the Universal Credit system, which could mean that if you’re not working ‘enough’ for the government you could still be put on mandatory workfare schemes.
Then there’s prison labour. The Ministry of Justice has established One3One, an ‘enterprise with a difference’. That difference being that their workers are prisoners in all 131 prisons in the UK—and are paid as little as 55p per hour.
In this context, poverty pay jobs could be made to look almost aspirational. Pay Up is intervening to show that low pay is also a key part of this spectrum of exploitation. You are not ‘lucky to have a job’ that pays poverty wages.
The past 30 years has seen the bottom 50 per cent of workers take home less and less of national income. In 1979 it was £17 out of every £100—now it’s just £10. Wages have been stagnating for decades, topped up with a debt bubble that has now burst for many.
That is why campaigners have been fighting for a Living Wage. It is £7.20 an hour, and £8.30 in London, compared to the current minimum wage of £6.08. They have won on London Underground, at cleaning contractors and local councils, to name but a few. But there are still only 100 employers accredited as paying the Living Wage in the UK.
Pay Up has chosen to target one of the biggest employers in the UK—Big Four supermarket Sainsbury’s, with its 150,000 workers and 10,000 stores. Sainsbury’s is a poverty payer—thousands of staff are reliant on tax credits, an effective public subsidy to private profit, as the supermarket pays just £6.21 per hour.
Sainsbury’s major brand ploy has been simply that it’s not Tesco—even though Tesco in fact pays between 50p and 80p more per hour than Sainsbury’s. The supermarket has also claimed to be the biggest fair trade retailer in the world. It projects an image of family-friendliness, with Gok Wan and previously Jamie Oliver making its brand ‘smart’ and ‘caring’.
But behind the façade, Sainsbury’s has been paying rampant bonuses to its executives—a 245 per cent rise for the board over seven years, including £2.2 million for CEO Justin King alone. Meanwhile staff have had a real-terms pay cut of 2.5 per cent over the same period.
Sainsbury’s can afford to pay a Living Wage. If it supports fair trade, why not fair pay?
Capitalism’s colonisation of the high street means that campaigns like Pay Up and Boycott Workfare have targets everywhere. Reproducible confrontation is one way of targeting both workfare and poverty payer companies all over the country.
Inside the workplace, organisation is the major lever. Outside, it is solidarity with workers and public exposure of and protests against companies.
Unionisation in Sainsbury’s is split between two unions. Pay Up is autonomous, but supportive of the existing Living Wage campaigns targeting supermarkets.
Whichever forms of organisation or unions Sainsbury’s workers choose to be part of or not, the goal is to make a major UK high street company take responsibility for their own wage bill and pay a Living Wage.
We can also show the Tories that their attacks on trade union reps and attempts to cut benefits for workers who strike will not work, as we have external leverage too.
Instead of normalising poverty pay and a race to the bottom, we need to be normalising a Living Wage as a minimum. This is a small step towards a much larger struggle of reversing inequality and achieving economic democracy and worker-run co-operative work.
Austerity is an old and permanent reality for millions in the Global South and North. So where does it end? It ends when we end it, collectively.
We have to not just fight cuts but fight for gains—an economy for the 99 per cent, not just Living Wages but control over our own labour and lives.
Getting organised at work and getting out into the streets to confront poverty payers and workfare profiteers are ways to make these arguments more visible and widespread.
The Spanish state is seizing ballot papers and raiding meetings, write Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte – but it is being met with united resistance
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Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
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A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
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New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
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A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains
The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going
A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism
Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase
Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields
Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton
Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi
A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain
Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank
Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded
West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens
Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age
Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today
The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi
Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun