Hotel and restaurant workers in both Britain and America have had enough of the low paid, insecure, irregular and down-right exploitative jobs they are forced to endure as their campaigns continue to reverberate across the nations.
Unite’s 08/08 campaign calls for hotel and restaurant workers in London – who currently struggle to make ends meet working for minimum wage in one of the world’s most expensive cities – to be paid a living wage of £8.80 an hour.
The day of action held on August 8 brought together hundreds of workers from the hospitality industry and has given a largely voiceless workforce – 69 per cent of which are from migrant communities – the chance to stand up for themselves and restore dignity to the job.
“If workers don’t have strong workplace organisation to defend and advance their rights and the ability to negotiate on pay and conditions then employers always have the upper hand,” warned Unite regional officer, Dave Turnbull.
This week Unite volunteer teams will be distributing a campaign newsletter to various Holiday Inn locations, informing workers of all they need to know to stay mobilised in the fight – after all, knowledge is power.
Additionally, Unite has organised a committee of around a dozen activists from another global hotel chain who are coming together to work on a co-ordinated organising drive to optimise the chances of achieving their goals.
Across the pond, hotel workers have already won a living wage – £11 per hour more than staff in London. Hot on their tail, fast-food restaurant workers have been organising, against all odds, to have their pay raised to $15 and the freedom to union rights without fearing for their job.
The demonstrations – which have gained momentum across America and are now present in more than 100 cities – have driven up awareness and support to the campaign.
The campaign exposes big fast-food corporations, like McDonalds, of exploiting workers with zero hours contracts, pittance pay (equivalent of £4.92 per hour) and insecure contractual rights.
McDonalds claim that because their restaurants are franchised they are not responsible for staff pay, but, the staff argue, their control of every other aspect of the business has made it impossible for franchises to increase wages.
The argument could go all the way up to the Supreme Court and could be a landmark achievement in changing who comes to the table to discuss labour issues.
The demonstrations have proved that collective action not only improves individual circumstances, but can lead to industrial change on a national scale – for the betterment of all.
“What we can learn from the American story is that there are no groups of workers who can effectively be written off when it comes to union organisation – but it means thinking outside the box and trying new things,” Dave said.
“We have to return to making freedom of association and collective bargaining the key issues when we organise low paid workers. Individual employment rights and arguments to raise the minimum wage to the living wage rate are only half the story.
“If we want to build strong unions in the future we need to start figuring out new ways to organise workers in the 21st century.”