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.
Yasmin Gunaratnam reflects on John Berger’s gut solidarity with the stranger
Charlie Clarke and Heather Mendick discuss how to work through the tensions within Momentum
As man-made global warming gets closer to the tipping point, Andrew Simms finds reasons to be positive about averting catastrophic climate change
In this extract from his new book The Candidate, Alex Nunns tells the inside story of how Jeremy Corbyn scraped onto the Labour leadership ballot in 2015
Graham Jones proposes a framework for a diverse movement to flourish
Musician Eliane Correa reflects on the fading revolution
Trump's victory is another sign of the failure of the centre-left's narrative on climate change. A new message is needed, and new politicians to deliver it, writes Alex Randall
Siobhán McGuirk says the question we are too afraid to ask is simple - what kind of society leads to Donald Trump as President?
The battle lines are clear. Democracy is in peril and the left must take itself seriously electorally and politically. Ruth Potts speaks to Gary Younge, who was based in Muncie, Indiana, for the US election, about the implications of Donald Trump’s victory
We need a society built on openness, community and equality to truly defeat everything that trump stands for, writes Nick Dearden.
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Short story: Syrenka
A short story by Kirsten Irving
Utopia: Industrial Workers Taking the Wheel
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry – and its lessons for today
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant
Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’
Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue
Utopia: Room for all
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK
A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank
News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions
Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release
Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts
‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette
The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.
How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op
Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU
Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity
Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson
Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release
University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.
Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.
Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History
Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.
A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas
Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn
From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'
The Fashion Revolution: Turn to the left
Bryony Moore profiles Stitched Up, a non-profit group reimagining the future of fashion
The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.
Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.
Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism
What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry