I had so much fun this afternoon on an M&S workfare picket today.
Feminist Fightback, North London SolFed, Rhythms of Resistance, and Boycott Workfare descended on M&S off Mare Street, Hackney. As the hot sun scorched Hackney, the samba band rang out across the street interspersed with chants of ‘M&S pay your workers’. Passersby were loving the samba, with two children clapping along as they waited for a bus and then improvising their own instruments with two twigs. People stopped and joined the demo to chant ‘M&S pay your workers’ with us. There was loads of support and good vibes from people. We handed out so many ‘How to Avoid Workfare’ leaflets and leaflets explaining about M&S’ use of forced unpaid labour that we had to rush off and photocopy another batch.
Lots of people stopped to speak to us about their experience of workfare, people spoke to us about how they had been sanctioned or threatened with sanctions. People thanked us for the rights leaflets and advice we gave them. One man who joined us said, “I’ve never been on a picket or demonstration before, but I’m so angry about what they’re doing, it’s exploitation.” He said he’d stay in touch and come to future demos. He kindly went off and bought us all bottles of chilled water. Another guy asked what we were doing and asked “but they get paid social security”, but that’s not a wage, that would work out at a quid an hour, and then M&S will get rid of their paid workers. “You’ve got a point” he said, genuinely convinced, and it seemed, converted.
There were two community support officers inside the store all day but we managed to enter the store in pairs to hand out leaflets and speak with the workers (and to enjoy the cool air of the refrigerators). The manager had warned workers not to speak to us and we were then escorted from the shop shouting that they should pay their workers. When we were outside again the whole group joined in a rousing chant of “M&S hear us say, we won’t work for JSA”. One person who’d stopped to speak with us remarked “Now that’s what I call a demonstration, just going in there and telling it straight!”
After a solid two and a half hours of leafletting, we started to pack up. North London SolFed are hardcore and kept on going.
It was great spending time talking in the street with strangers and making connections, encouraging them to stay in touch and let us know if we could support them. Hackney did have a welfare group ‘Hackney Welfare Action’ (part of London Coalition Against Poverty) but it’s sort of fizzled out, but from our picket today there’s definitely a lot of people who would be interested in being involved in a welfare action group. I headed back to south London feeling good – it’s all about the street solidarity!