Back to North Kensington jobcentre yesterday – where that jobcentre’s sensitive leadership called the police as the unemployed workers’ group I was with handed out information leaflets to JSA claimants who must deal with sanctions and workfare. The coppers didn’t seem to care much about the leafleting when they arrived – although they did ask if the group could ring the local police station with advance warning of its next leafleting activity. Which was amusing. Highly. I can’t see advance phone calls to the police and copper-convenient leafleting sessions being organised in a hurry myself. Liaising with the police – particularly before an event – isn’t anyone’s bag and I don’t think there’s any requirement to do it. Jobcentres are just getting very touchy about anyone who might let people on JSA know that there are groups of claimants fighting workfare and sanctions. And that they can join in.
And anyway, the many people on JSA who I talk to want this unemployed workers’ group to keep turning up and challenging jobcentre management. I’ve written before about the concerns that people who attend the North Kensington jobcentre have raised about jobcentre advisers who bully the people they’re supposed to support, and about the pointless, oppressive daily sign-on regime that many claimants there are now subject to. “It’s like you’re tagged,” one woman who must sign on daily told the group yesterday. “You can’t go out of London for a day. You can’t even really go out of your area. You got to be around every day to come in here and sign on.”
This woman had another problem, too – and it’s one that will ultimately affect you, whether you’re in work or not. The jobcentre centre had just given her a letter which told her to attend a G4S meeting this week about starting a Community Work Placement.
I wrote about Community Work Placements in detail last week. As many people will know, anyone who must go on a CWP has to work in a designated organisation for up to 30 hours a week and for as long as 26 weeks to keep getting their JSA.
There are two very big problems with this. The first is that people are doing an awful lot of work for nothing on CWPs. They’re on workfare, pure and simple. The man I spoke to for last week’s article explained how people at Embrace UK, the charity he’s stuck with for a 26-week CWP, work on data entry, administration, presentations and events support and organisation among other tasks. This forced-work-for-a-benefit is simply wrong. People doing this work should be paid properly. They can’t be forced into it on the threat that they’ll lose their benefits. That’s exploitation of a particularly evil kind. People doing any sort of work should be paid properly.
Which leads me onto the second big problem: that everyone’s job is threatened by the CWP regime. As I said last week, paid work as a concept is under real threat – and that’s paid work of all kinds. The man on CWP at Embrace UK pointed out that people in so-called white-collar work may not be particularly aware that “their” kind of job is being done now for nothing. “They’ll have doctors and lawyers on workfare soon,” he said.
He was only half-joking. Johnny has a very good story at the moment about some of the once-paid-for jobs that are now being done by people who are on workfare. This wholesale replacing of paid workers with unpaid workers was one of the features of the appalling US workfare programmes, just by the way. As you can read here, a union which represented municipal employees took the Giuliani administration to court several years into New York city’s workfare programme. The union said that the city’s workfare programme “had illegally replaced nearly 2000 unionised clerical workers with unpaid welfare recipients in three agencies.”
That’s how workfare rolls. Whether you’re in or out of work, it’ll ultimately come your way. Every time a paid employee leaves a job somewhere, there’s a chance that the job will be filled by someone who is forced onto workfare and must attend for six months to keep their benefit. That could be the job you’re leaving, or the job you once hoped to apply for. Doesn’t bode too well for anyone who needs to work for money to pay the rent.
We spoke to two people at North Kensington yesterday who’d been told to report for Community Work Placements, so the thing is clearly underway there. We’ll find plenty more people next time we go, I bet. Maybe the coppers and jobcentre managers could help hand out a few leaflets. Don’t think anyone in paid work should be feeling too comfortable, or safe.