Socialist Worker

Cash not vouchers for refugees

Issue No. 1708

Protests target supermarkets across country

Cash not vouchers for refugees

CAMPAIGNERS WERE outside supermarkets in nearly every major town and city across England and Wales last Saturday to protest against the government's inhuman treatment of refugees. Protesters targeted supermarkets which are part of the government's voucher system.

Under the scheme refugees are denied cash and forced to live on vouchers worth just �36.54 a week. The voucher scheme is run by the private firm Sodexho Pass. It encourages supermarkets to sign up to the scheme by bragging that they can make money by pocketing any change from the vouchers.

"It is a humiliating process," said a protester in west London. "It brands refugees as different to other working class people." Some 60 people joined the lively protest outside British Home Stores (BHS) in BRISTOL. There were several local union banners, including from the MSF, AEEU, AUT, UNISON and the CWU.

"Everyone feels buoyed up by the protest. It made a lot of people feel they were not alone in their hatred of New Labour's scapegoating of refugees," said one campaigner. There were also representatives from Amnesty International and Oxfam, and several Labour Party members on the demo.

In BIRMINGHAM there were five protests outside supermarkets across the city. A local Labour councillor addressed the protest in the city centre. The �50 collected from shoppers was donated to local refugees from Bosnia.

"The protest went down really well," says Janine from SHEFFIELD. "We had 40 people outside the Somerfield store in the city centre. Lots of people were interested in our arguments about why refugees are not to blame. "We also went into the shop to talk to the union rep and to get more support. We are now planning future protests."

In BRADFORD shoppers at Tesco donated to a collection of toys and other items considered by the government as "luxuries" which refugees are forbidden to purchase with vouchers.

In CARDIFF in Wales there were demonstrations outside two Tesco stores. There were also protests outside Woolworths in NEATH and Tesco in PORT TALBOT. Twenty people joined a protest outside Tesco in SWANSEA. A lively protest was also held outside Tesco in NEWPORT. "The response of shoppers was overwhelmingly supportive," reports one campaigner.

Around 25 people petitioned outside Tesco in LIVERPOOL city centre. They handed out hundreds of leaflets, collected pages of signatures and raised over �70 for the campaign to defend refugees. Campaigners then held a street meeting in front of the store. Speakers included Lesley Mahmood from the Merseyside Socialist Alliance. Messages of support included one from Rath Parkinson of UNISON's national executive.

In MARGATE in Kent, where the Nazi NF has used the refugee issue to whip up vile racism, people protested outside Iceland and Somerfield stores. "There was good support from shoppers," reports Jon.

In KILBURN in west London around 35 people gave out leaflets urging people to oppose the voucher system. One campaigner held up a blown up voucher, demanding "cash, not vouchers". A rally afterwards was addressed by Gillian Travers, a Labour councillor from Harrow, who plans to set up a campaign there. A Labour councillor from Brent also spoke, as did a representative from a Muslim women's organisation and the Brent Refugee Forum.

In HAMMERSMITH, west London, 17 people protested outside Tesco, including a Labour councillor. "We must have given out between 500 and 600 leaflets," said a spokesperson. "It is important to follow this up with more protests. It is a good idea to write to the store manager explaining why we are against the voucher system and why we protested outside the store. That way the management will take the case to head office and we can build up pressure on them to drop out of the scheme."

In EALING, also in west London, up to 15 people took part in a protest. Campaigners collected a trolley full of "luxury" goods to donate to refugees. Small protests also took place outside Iceland and Kwik Save in FELTHAM and HOUNSLOW in west London.

Some 28 people made a splash outside Tesco on the OLD KENT ROAD in south London. They included local Southwark London Socialist Alliance members and two Kosovan refugees.

There were 45 people and a row of trade union banners outside Tesco in LEWISHAM in south London. Many shoppers handed in leaflets to the Customer Services Department to complain about the degrading treatment of refugees.

In Brixton, also in south London, around 70 people joined a protest outside Tesco.

In HACKNEY in east London over 40 people helped leaflet and petition a Tesco store.

There were 50 people on the protest outside Sainsbury's in WHITECHAPEL, east London. "We really made an impact," reports Brian. "The manager refused to answer our questions and then called the cops. But there was a very good response from shoppers and many took away Oxfam cards to give to checkout staff." Oxfam has issued tens of thousands of protest cards for people to hand in at supermarkets as part of its campaign against the voucher system.

Another 20 people protested in EAST HAM, also in east London.

In WALTHAMSTOW, north east London, up to 30 people joined a protest outside Sainsbury's, including several members of the Green Party. Local Green MEP Jean Lambert addressed a rally, condemning the voucher scheme.

A lively protest outside Iceland in HARINGEY in north London made a splash on the local south east news.

There were also protests in Newcastle, Manchester city centre, Bolton, Ipswich, Huddersfield, Worcester, Coventry, Telford and Brighton.

Scottish day of action

SCOTTISH campaigners are organising a day of action on Saturday 12 August against the voucher scheme for refugees.

  • GLASGOW: 2pm, Sainsbury's outside Buchanan Galleries, Buchanan Street.
  • EDINBURGH: 12 noon, Sainsbury's, St Andrew's Square.

A benefit for refugees in Edinburgh last week was a great success. It attracted over 160 people and raised nearly �1,000. Bill Speirs, general secretary of the Scottish TUC, was there.

TUC toys scheme

THE TRADES Union Congress (TUC) has called on people to donate toys, which refugees are banned from buying under the voucher system, to centres across Britain.

This provides an excellent opportunity for trade unionists to do collections for refugees and to raise the issue in their workplaces. Local community groups and other organisations should also do collections. Donate toys-old or new-to your nearest collection centre:

  • SCOTLAND: Scottish Refugee Council, 5th floor, 94 Hope Street, Glasgow G2 6QA. Phone 0141 248 9799.
  • NORTHERN IRELAND: NIACRO, Suite 103, McAvoy House, 17a Ormeau Avenue, Belfast BT2 HHD. Phone 02890 312 052.
  • NORTH WEST: Refugee Action, 24-26 Lever Street, Manchester M1 1DZ. Phone 0161 233 1200.

Liverpool Law Centre, 34 Princes Road, Liverpool L8 1TH. Phone 0151 702 6300.

  • EAST MIDLANDS: Refugee Action, Melbourne Centre, Melbourne Road, Leicester LE2 0GU. Phone 0116 261 4830.
  • WEST MIDLANDS: Offices F, J & N, 2F Business Centre, China Court Building, Ladywell Walk, Birmingham B5 4RX. Phone 0121 622 1515.
  • SOUTH WEST: British Red Cross, Ermon House, Butts Road, Heavitree, Exeter EX2 5BD. Phone 01392 274 874.

Bristol: c/o 38 College Green, Bristol, BS1 5SP. Phone 01178 903 7885.

  • SOUTH CENTRAL: 133a High Street, Southampton SO14 2BR. Phone 02380 248 130.
  • WALES: Welsh Refugee Council, Unit 8, Williams Court, Trade Street, Cardiff CF10 5DQ. Phone 02920 666 240.
  • TYNESIDE: Refugee Service, 19 The Bigg Market, Newcastle NE1 1UN. Phone 0191 222 0406.
  • TEESSIDE: Tees Valley Office, 308 Linthorpe Road, Middlesbrough TS1 3QX. Phone 01642 217 447.
  • YORKSHIRE and HUMBERSIDE: 1st Floor, Wade House, The Merrion Centre, Leeds LS2 8NG. Phone 0113 244 9404.
  • EASTERN: Unit 1, Observation Court, Princes Street, Ipswich IP1 1RR. Phone 01473 288 688.
  • LONDON: 240-250 Ferndale Road, Brixton, London SW9 8BB. Phone 020 7346 6770.
  • DOVER: Migrant Helpline Room 65, No 1 Control Building, Eastern Docks, Dover CT16 1JD. Phone 020 7346 6770.
  • HEATHROW: 1st floor, Queens Building, Heathrow Airport, Hounslow TW6 1DL. Phone 020 8759 5740.

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Article information

Sat 5 Aug 2000, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1708
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