The limits of the #Workfare campaign

A court ruling deemed the government’s controversial work placement scheme unlawful. Cait Reilly, a recent geology graduate, and Jamieson Wilson, an unemployed HGV driver, took the government to court arguing that under the Department for Work and Pensions’ work placement scheme they were unlawfully forced to work for free for the retail chain Poundland. The court ruled in favour of Reilly and Wilson leading some to think that the government programme is now left in “tatters”.[1] In reality the programme is still quite safe.

If you look at the outcome more closely, you can see that the court did not have a problem with the government forcing people to do unpaid work. The Mandatory Work Scheme was deemed legal, but the court decided the scheme had been dishonest about the terms of work within it. Reilly and Wilson – and many others still on the work scheme – were not told that the work placement is voluntary or what their rights are under the scheme. In other words, the case was won due to them being misled into forced work rather than being coerced into it under the Mandatory Work Scheme. This ruling is hardly the “huge victory for ordinary people” it’s being billed as,[2] and it is inevitable that the government will rewrite the legislation in order to get around the court ruling, continuing to force unemployed people to work for free.[3]

There are two immediate things that are alarming about the events surrounding the ruling. Firstly, that it was considered a victory in the first place and secondly, the limitations of the anti-workfare campaign – not mutually exclusive, of course. Fighting to get people off forced, unpaid work is important and I don’t want to belittle the campaign for what it is trying to do. But we should remember the fundamental nature of the court ruling: it continues to support the concept of unpaid labour as long as you’ve consented to it. The vital and necessary questions we should now be asking are whether this is actually a victory, and importantly whether calling for an end to workfare is really enough.

The obvious argument in defence of those claims could be that defeating the workfare programme will build class confidence and weaken the Tory government. This could be true, but is undermined by the anti-workfare campaigns lack of building workplace and community resistance to the state or capitalism more generally. The anti-workfare campaign has never pushed its message beyond unpaid labour and has failed to raise the anti-capitalist argument that paid labour is forced just as much as unpaid labour is. Daily we are forced to work for the financial interests of others for minimum pay. With this message the campaign could hope to gain wider class solidarity by demonstrating that what is happening on the workfare programme is the most extreme expression of the exploitative relationship we workers must endure under capitalism.

Direct action has been credited for the successes of the campaign despite the campaign being willing to call a court ruling ‘the death of the workfare schemes’. This begs the question of the nature of direct action today. Increasingly direct action is being used as a militant form of protest, ironically to achieve reformist political objectives. There is nothing wrong with using methods of direct action to achieve reforms that improve our lives or help improve the lives of other working class people per se, but these reforms should not be the end in and of themselves. For anarchist communists, direct action is used in opposition to reformist and parliamentary tactics and against reformist and parliamentary objectives so that we can achieve broad, transformative economic and political objectives. Winning reforms through direct action can help build that class confidence and solidarity, but it is only useful if it has the aim of growing into a collective transformative process for society.

– Albie


Source – Collective Action



One Comment on “The limits of the #Workfare campaign”

  1. I’ve just posted my take on the whole issue on politicoid if you wanna take a look. I haven’t nearly finished what I really think though!

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