Organising the lost Generation
As you may or may not have seen on the news today further embarrassment for the government and their flagship workfare scheme of slave labour as news of around 30 unemployed people were forced into a terrible ordeal all in the name of the jubilee celebrations.
Some of those hired as stewards had to spend the night before the pageant sleeping under London Bridge.
A group of long-term unemployed jobseekers were bussed into London to work as unpaid stewards during the diamond jubilee celebrations and told to sleep under London Bridge before working on the river pageant.
Up to 30 jobseekers and another 50 people on apprentice wages were taken to London by coach from Bristol, Bath and Plymouth as part of the government's Work Programme.
Two jobseekers, who did not want to be identified in case they lost their benefits, said they had to camp under London Bridge the night before the pageant. They told the Guardian they had to change into security gear in public, had no access to toilets for 24 hours, and were taken to a swampy campsite outside London after working a 14-hour shift in the pouring rain on the banks of the Thames on Sunday.
One young worker said she was on duty between London Bridge and Tower Bridge during the £12m river spectacle of a 1,000-boat flotilla and members of the Royal family sail by . She said that the security firm Close Protection UK, which won a stewarding contract for the jubilee events, gave her a plastic see-through poncho and a high-visibility jacket for protection against the rain.
Close Protection UK confirmed that it was using up to 30 unpaid staff and 50 apprentices, who were paid £2.80 an hour, for the three-day event in London. A spokesman said the unpaid work was a trial for paid roles at the Olympics, which it had also won a contract to staff. Unpaid staff were expected to work two days out of the three-day holiday.
The firm said it had spent considerable resources on training and equipment that stewards could keep and that the experience was voluntary and did not affect jobseekers keeping their benefits.
The woman said that people were picked up at Bristol at 11pm on Saturday and arrived in London at 3am on Sunday. "We all got off the coach and we were stranded on the side of the road for 20 minutes until they came back and told us all to follow them," she said. "We followed them under London Bridge and that's where they told us to camp out for the night … It was raining and freezing."
A 30-year-old steward told the Guardian that the conditions under the bridge were "cold and wet and we were told to get our head down [to sleep]". He said that it was impossible to pitch a tent because of the concrete floor.
The woman said they were woken at 5.30am and supplied with boots, combat trousers and polo shirts. She said: "They had told the ladies we were getting ready in a minibus around the corner and I went to the minibus and they had failed to open it so it was locked. I waited around to find someone to unlock it, and all of the other girls were coming down trying to get ready and no one was bothering to come down to unlock [it], so some of us, including me, were getting undressed in public in the freezing cold and rain." The men are understood to have changed under the bridge.
The female steward said that after the royal pageant, the group travelled by tube to a campsite in Theydon Bois, Essex, where some had to pitch their tents in the dark.
She said: "London was supposed to be a nice experience, but they left us in the rain. They couldn't give a crap … No one is supposed to be treated like that, [working] for free. I don't want to be treated where I have to sleep under a bridge and wait for food." The male steward said: "It was the worst experience I've ever had. I've had many a job, and many a bad job, but this one was the worst."
Both stewards said they were originally told they would be paid. But when they got to the coach on Saturday night, they said, they were told that the work would be unpaid and that if they did not accept it they would not be considered for well-paid work at the Olympics.
This is just the most recent incident of unemployed people being exploitive for their benefits. This is not on and Youth fight for jobs along with others will be stepping up our opposition to these schemes and the battle against workfare is far from over. I for one feel the government is going to push ahead even more with this scheme as they frankly have no other idea of how to provide decent jobs for young people. YFFJ calls on all that oppose workfare to help to organize a national demonstration against workfare not as a substitute to weekly protests in regional areas but as a way of bringing it to the fore again. Its time workfare was smashed once and for all.
We demand decent jobs with decent pay as a demand towards decent future for young people.
Also come to this meeting to hear what YFFJ will be planning to do in the next year building for a national demonstration in the autumn against fees and cuts and also how young people can get involved in the TUC’s October demonstration planed. That and much much more this coming Sunday.
Occupy Home Minnesota campaigner
Helen Flanagan, Public and Commercial Services union, National Executive Committee member
Suzanne Beishon, Organizer Young Londoners Forced out campaign
Sunday 10th June 10:30 AM – 16:00 PM
University of London Union,