Workers at two Wetherspoon pubs in Brighton are being balloted for strike action, with demands raised for a £10 per hour wage and union recognition. The ballot has been called by the Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU), which was behind the historic ‘McStrike’ action last year, organising a walk-out by McDonald’s workers for the first time ever in Britain.
A Yes vote on strike action at the Bright Helm and the Post & Telegraph would be the latest example of the growing labour militancy within traditionally unorganised sectors, as worsening conditions of precarity, poverty wages and appalling workplace environments leaves workers with no choice but to take radical action.
‘I’ve worked at Wetherspoons for 4 years,’ said Chris Hepple, a 29-year-old kitchen worker at the Post & Telegraph. ‘In that time I’ve struggled to survive on poverty wages and seen my colleagues battle to make ends meet.
‘We’ve had enough of being underpaid and undervalued. Now is the time for all hospitality workers to rise up and demand the respect we all deserve.’
As years of economic crisis and austerity have decimated the job prospects of millions of people, particularly young people, vast numbers find themselves without any alternative to menial, low-paid employment. According to the Local Government Association, nearly 1.3 million 16 to 24-year-olds are not working, whilst another 1.2 million are ‘underemployed or overqualified.’ Those that do find work are met with the reality of low pay and poor conditions, with minimal options to find better employment elsewhere.
Companies like JD Wetherspoon are able to exploit this situation for their own gain. The cheap boozer chain, which reported a 20.6 per cent rise in before tax profits at the start of this year, operates on the basis of low wages and a high staff turnover. A worker at one of the Brighton pubs describes a staff meeting on their first day in which they were told by a manager: ‘every single one of you is dispensable.’ For every worker that leaves, there is a mass of unemployed and underemployed people who can be brought in as replacements quickly and cheaply.
But the current strike ballot demonstrates that such insulting and unfair treatment will not be tolerated indefinitely. Rather than simply moving on to another equally exploitative and precarious job, workers are preparing to take a stand collectively. ‘There comes a time when you ask yourself: “do I leave and look for another job that will be just as demeaning, in the hope that it could be better?”’ one worker explains. ‘Our answer is that it’s time to stop running away, to stand together and fight for more, to fight for what we deserve.’
The growing number of examples of a willingness to take such radical steps shows that workers do not have to accept the degrading and humiliating conditions that the crisis-ridden capitalist system has to offer. Through militant collective action, working class people can fight to have the wealth that they produce used for the benefit of all, not the enrichment of a few.
by Nat Arkwright, Brighton Marxists