Saturday, February 25, 2012

Desperate Times, Desperate Lies and Diversions

WORKFARE protest in Brighton. One of many around country, it was oganised by local campaigners, and took place before Westminster demo that got Grayling and media excited.

DESPERATE times for the government and its grand scheme for making unemployment profitable by making people work for their dole or benefits. Another of the companies that was meant to make use of buckshee labour has decided it was not worth the bad publicity.

"Burger King has announced it has pulled out of the government's controversial work experience scheme. The fast food giant said it had decided to cease its involvement in the Get Britain Working programme because of recent concerns expressed by the public.

Meanwhile, more information about the boss of A4E, the company which has been doing so well out of helping to run the scheme.

"Emma Harrison, the prime minister's former family tsar who quit amid allegations of 'fat cat' pay and fraud, received around £1.7m over two years from leasing out properties, including her family stately home, to the firm she built on the back of state-funded welfare-to-work programmes.

"Records show that money was funnelled into two companies and a pension fund in which Harrison or her husband has a controlling interest.

"The couple were paid £316,000 for allowing A4e to use their country home for board meetings and other events. Emma and James Harrison were paid another £1.4m for leasing out two other properties to Emma Harrison's own firm, including its Sheffield headquarters.

"The payments were in addition to Emma Harrison's £365,000 annual salary and the payment of an £8.6m shares dividend, bringing the total earnings of the Harrisons, who share their 20-bedroom home, Thornbridge Hall in Derbyshire, with 11 friends, to some £11m between 2009 and 2011.

"The revelations will be a considerable embarrassment to the government, which still has £478m worth of Work Programme contracts with A4e.

"The firm, which earned around £180m last year wholly from providing public services, was handed responsibility for getting the long-term unemployed back into work in five parts of the country, under the coalition government's scheme. It is also the preferred bidder for a £15m prisoner rehabilitation contract, although last night government sources suggested it could backtrack on the proposed deal."

Surely Harrison deserves an award as businesswoman of the year, for not only showing how to turn the economic crisis to good use and setting an example of how to help someone -herself -into a good job, but also for enterprise in supplementing the family income by letting off those spare rooms?

Some of A4e's staff also seem to have found enterprising ways of supplementing their income, and are being interviewed by DCI Plod about such means reportedly as converting clothing vouchers intended to help the unemployed to cash.

Perhaps they figured you would not need a suit for an interview at MacDonalds, or to become an unpaid cleaner or skivvy in someone's house. You see this scheme really has been providing a service.

With A4e attracting such attention from the constabulary and some unsympathetic press, one newspaper group whose minions have belatedly been visited over such achievements as hacking Milly Dowler's mobile has celebrated its new appearance on Sundays by pointing to the "Villain of the Week", while displaying its caring side for the young unemployed:

"A scruffy rag-bag of adolescent politicos, you normally only see Socialist Workers hawking their firebrand newspaper outside university unions. But this week they have stumbled into centre-stage with a vicious campaign against plans to give work experience to jobless youngsters. Astonishingly, the BBC and some newspapers have breathlessly recounted their hate-filled crusade against the businesses who have dared to give young people a chance. National TV news even broadcast pictures of half a dozen ranting militants staging a protest in a Tesco in Westminster. No doubt the comrades will be slapping themselves on the back at the next meeting of the SWP. But spare a thought for the true victims of this preposterous campaign - the youngsters who might now miss out on the chance of getting some valuable experience... and maybe even a job".

Love thar "maybe".

It was employment minister Chris Grayling who unleashed the dogs, saying companies were being nervous because of protests, and even claiming the SWP was hacking his e-mails, though this feeble attempt at the sympathy vote appears to have been dropped.

The hunt was loyally taken up by the media, with the Torygraph even naming four individuals whom it claimed were leading the campaign, and giving information about their past background and employment status. Smart work by the reporters or were they given a hand? The BBC on the other hand seems to have got mixed up, Life of Brian style, between its Socialist Party and Socialist Workers Party. Never mind, eh?

Meanwhile the story about these High Street giants becoming terrified of a group of lefties has been highly gratifying for supporters of the SWP and the Right to Work campaign it initiated. It has been annoying for other groups and campaigns, some of which point out they have not only been out on the streets protesting workfare lately but were taking up the issue before this government even took over from the New Labourites.

Tesco in Westminster were targetted after the company advertised a vacancy for someone "at JSA" (job seekers allowance) but there have been demonstrations at various stores around the country.

Incidentally, the ever so 'balanced' Beeb or at least its Panorama team were evidently convinced workfare was a good thing long before we were talking about it.

But what the minister and the pro-government media alike prefer to ignore is that the "tiny bunch of radicals" protesting on the street outside Tesco are only the merest tip of an iceberg of popular resentment, whichever label those in power choose to stick on them.

Lots of people desperately want to see themselves or their family members off the dole and into a job - not kept on the dole but expected to work for it. Many can figure out that an employer
provided with free labour by the state will not feel pushed to create new jobs. Quite the opposite.

The shopworkers' union USDAW, not noted for militancy, has taken up the workfare issue with firms like Tesco. And Brendan Barber the general secretary of the TUC recently had this to say:
"While unemployed people may benefit from short periods of work experience, forcing them to work effectively for free for up to six months is not the way to solve the UK's jobs crisis.
"Not only are the high street names involved […] in danger of exploiting participants, the scheme also poses a very real threat to the jobs and pay of existing workers. It is also far from clear whether the placements actually involve any genuine degree of training or work experience that will be of any use to the unemployed taking part.

"The danger is that [this] is simply encouraging employers to continue using unpaid labour when what they should be doing is recruiting unemployed people into properly paid jobs."

The campaign against workfare and for real, decent and worthwhile paid jobs is continuing, and so is the exposure of minister Grayling's lies, diversions and attempts to cover his tracks.


I'd counsel the SWP and Right to Work against getting big headed because they were singled out for blame, and against showing too much conceit or bravado. But bravo to them or anyone else who is taking the issue up. The anti-workfare campaign is coming to a High Street near you on March 3. Support them!

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