2020 Indian General Strike

The biggest protest in Human history is currently happening in India, and when I say biggest I mean that this strike makes up one in thirty of the entire world population. 

So big. 

Very big. 

That’s 250 Million people on strike, to put that in perspective that’s as if every single person in the USA were on strike or even more clear, nearly four times as many people as live in the entire UK are currently on strike in India. 

Strikes have become ever more common in India in recent years with Modi’s far right government putting in place ever harsher restrictions on workers right, indeed the only major unions not to have gone on strike in India are those aligned with the ruling BJP. Modi has never been particularly popular with workers across India, and with the Government taking advantage of the Covid Crisis to push even more anti worker legislation into place a confrontation was inevitable. 

What has made these protests in particular grow in size has been the large contingent of farmers unions that have also used the same day to March on the Indian capital city of Delhi to protest the government’s policies that threaten to bring Neoliberalism out from the cities and into into the farming communities that still form a major part of the Indian economy. 

Unlike the worker’s from the city, which predominantly are from the poorer working class the farmers union protests appear to have drawn in agricultural workers from all stratas, and the protesters seem prepared to push for their demands with tenacity, with some farmers union representatives saying the group surrounding Delhi have come with months of food to wait out the government. 

This cross class movement isn’t the only united front forming in India with the myriad of communist parties of the region forming anti BJP coalitions, including the CPM and CPI, and even the Naxalite linked CPI(ML) Liberation. To those not familiar with Indian Leftist politics (we won’t shame you here but you should feel ashamed all the same) this might be confusing and just appear to be a stream of letters I threw at you but this is a bigger deal than you might first think.

India, despite being a region forced to through the horrors of imperialism and now the gruelling gears of global capitalism (or perhaps because of this) is a place where not only are communists more popular than in the west, they’ve also shown themselves as to be able to govern. Kerala, one of the richest states in India has largely been run by a moderate communist party and ran well. A reputation communist don’t enjoy in most of Europe, except perhaps in local elections in France. 

What does this mean in the context of the current strike action? Perhaps not much but the communists parties new found warmth to anti BJP coalitions, the worker’s unions ability to organize and agitate and now with new found support from both rural poor, and even rural landowners (groups typically not found in unity with Marxists) it is possible this movement could form into something that can effectively oppose the ruling far right Indian Government. 

There are hurdles in place and a difficult road in front of the nascent movement and the battle is not even won yet, to speak nothing of the class war but I for one am optimistic. To end our article we would like to leave you with words of Actor Deep Sindu, who has come out in support of this recent wave of protests and industrial action. 

“This is a revolution, sir”

Who was Joe Hill

If you’re a member of the IWW you no doubt already know of Joe Hill thanks to his contributions to the Little Red Song Book (and if you’re not, we would encourage you to join). Most famous for his song “The Preacher and the Slave” Joe was a travelling musician that became a folk hero for the radical work he carried out in the trade union movement; for his beautiful songs that cut right to the heart of the pains of being a worker in early twentieth century America and for his tragic death at the hands of the American state. As it is the hundred and fifth anniversary of his untimely death we at the ACU thought we would explore a little about the man’s life and work, and remember this martyr for the trade union movement. 

Joe Hill, originally named Joel Emmanuel Hägglund, was born on October 7th 1879 in Gävle, Sweden to a conservative Protestant Family. Despite his family being from a more traditionalist worldview, Joe’s early life was one filled with song. Both of his parents were musicians and while a young man Hill wrote songs about his family, and even went to concerts at the workers’ association hall in his hometown. Tragedy struck the happy family in 1887 when Hill’s father died from an injury at his job as a train conductor, and soon Joe and his 5 other siblings were forced to quit school to support themselves. The 9-year-old Hill found himself working in a rope factory rather than attending school but this too wasn’t to last. In 1900 Joe caught TB and at the age of 21 moved to the capital of Sweden, Stockholm both for work and to get treatment for his condition. It was during this treatment that the radiation therapy would leave the young joe with facial disfigurements. Two years after these treatments Joe’s mother would pass away, while herself under medical treatment. With this final tragedy the family sold their home and each went their separate ways; four of Joe’s siblings settled in different parts of Sweden but Joe and his younger brother Paul instead set off for America.

For the next 12 years Joe travelled America, working odd jobs, living in tent cities and writing songs about his experiences. In 1910 he joined the IWW and served as the secretary for the San Pedro local branch. During his time here he wrote many of his most famous songs, including “Pie in The Sky” and the famous “The Preacher and the Slave” that would make its way into the IWW songbook. When legendary folk singer Utah Philips performed Joe Hills songs in concert he would explain why so many were written to the tune of the hymn songs that the salvation army would sing – “Joe liked to steal, the Wobblies generally liked to steal the hymn tunes because they were pretty and everybody knew them and then changed the words so they made more sense”. 

In 1911 he put his revolutionary words into action and, along with an army of homeless radicals, joined up as part of a socialist army that invaded Mexico in hopes of over throwing the dictator of Mexico at the time, Porfirio Diaz, as well as hoping to take over Baja California and turn it into a worker’s free state. The invasion was a disaster and soon the better trained and equipped Mexican Army, still at that time loyal to Diaz, routed the revolutionary army six months after it had crossed the border. In 1912, Hill was apparently active in a Free Speech coalition of Wobblies, back when being pro free speech actually meant standing up to authority, and protested a San Diego police decision to put a stop to street meetings. During this time he was also spotted at sites of industrial action, offering kind words and zealous songs to lift the spirits of workers across America. 

It was in 1913 that Joe’s work supporting strikers would first bring him into conflict with the police. He was arrested for the first time and held for thirty days, charged for what he says in his own words as being “a little too active to suit the chief of the burg”. 

After this Joe was on the police’s watch list and in 1914 when a grocer and his son turned up dead after a botched robbery and Joe turned up the same day at a hospital with gunshot wounds the police pinned the murders on Joe. This was held up on shaky ground, with the only evidence being circumstantial eye witness accounts that did not identify Joe, only a young assailant that escaped with gunshot wounds. Joe, for his part, said he got his gunshot wounds in a feud over the love of a young woman, but refused to give up the name of the young woman or rival on worries that he would only incriminate them. 

The identity of the woman and the rival that caused Hill’s injury was a well kept secret, one that Joe thought he took to the grave with him, though a 2011 biography of Hill presents information about a possible alibi which was never introduced at the trial. Hill and his friend Otto Appelquist were rivals for the attention of 20-year-old Hilda Erickson, a member of the family with whom the two men were lodging. In a recently discovered letter, Erickson confirmed her relationship with the two men and the rivalry between them. The letter indicates that when she first discovered Hill was injured, he explained to her that Appelquist had shot him out of jealousy over their shared love for Hilda. 

During the trail and on the lead up to his execution Joe managed to draw in support from all across America. His supporters included a daughter of a former Mormon church president, radicals that he had worked with during his striking days, and even senior politicians like the Swedish minister to the United States and President Woodrow Wilson. Despite all of these appeals to justice on November 19th 1915 Joe was brutally and unjustly executed by firing squad. His last recorded words were to Bill Haywood, a well known and loved leader of the IWW, and it’s with those words we will leave you now.

“I die like a true rebel. Don’t waste any time mourning, organize!”

Solidarity with Bangladeshi Workers

The Dragon Sweater Group is a cornerstone of Bangladesh’s garment industry, producing about $4.5 billion in revenue per year from exports. The organization is headed by Mostafa Golam Quddus, a former president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association and an important figure in establishing the country’s industrialised clothing industry. You might not know a lot about this company but if you’ve ever bought clothes from Zara, Primark, H&M or even Asda you might have a jumper made in one of the companies factores in your house right now. Lately, the Dragon Sweater Group has come under fire for their treatment of Bangladeshi garment workers during the COVID-19 crisis.

In March, the factory closed down as part of precautions over the pandemic, and it was at this point that a large part of the company’s employees were dismissed; the company claims only 140 workers did not return to work and that everyone was given their proper wages while the factory was closed over. However, the Daily Star- an English-Bangladeshi newspaper claims the number is between 500 and 600, with the Garment Workers Trade Union Centre and the Industrial Workers of the World claiming the number of employees that were dismissed and had their wages withheld being ten times that figure, at 6000

This unfair, and technically illegal dismissal of such a large portion of their workforce has naturally caused some backlash towards the company; but with management unwilling to even admit to an agreed upon figure of dismissed workers- never mind admitting wrong-doing- negotiations drew to a halt over reinstatement of the workers and lost wages. In response, the union organised protests, including occupying the factory owners’ home and a hunger strike at the Prime Minister’s office. Jolly Talukder, general secretary of Garment Workers Trade Union Centre makes the group’s demands very simple, saying that “Every worker deserves legal payment by the employer”.

The union has also garnered support internationally with groups like the IWW and the International Confederation of Labour organising pickets and poster campaigns targeting businesses still trading with the factory worldwide, in Ireland, Germany, Spain, Brazil, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and even our own Ayrshire. 

You might ask yourself what benefit these demonstrations can do and what material help this is actually giving the workers in Bangladesh, but the campaign is looking to be on a roll, with the Walmart Group(owners of ASDA) stating they will no longer work with the factory until the workers demands are met. In the UK, only Lidl are yet to issue a response. With mounting pressure on the Dragon Sweater Group, both in Bangladesh and internationally, the workers are hoping to bring management to the negotiating table, reinstating their jobs and wages and returning to normal life.

If you want to get involved you can get more information about the campaign here and if you want to take part in action in support of workers locally and worldwide, you can join the IWW here.

Anti-Union Terrorism: The Judi Bari Story

Yesterday marked the 30th year since American environmentalist and IWW labour organiser Judi Bari, along with fellow activist Darryl Cherney, were the victims of a terrorist attack in which a pipe bomb was detonated in Judi’s car as they were driving in Oakland, California. Judi was a key figure in the Earth First! group, a radical environmental advocacy organisation that, at the time, was trying to arrange protests to protect the ancient redwood forests in Northern California. Unfortunately the bomber has never been caught and the FBI response to the incident was suspicious from the start and led many to believe that they had something to do with the bombing or were wilfully mishandling the investigation to hurt the labour activists. They even went so far as to accuse Judi and Darryl of being the bombers themselves, but more on that later.

Throughout the 1980’s Judi Bari was a prolific activist and in 1988 was instrumental in starting a local group of the Industrial Workers of the World that would ally with the Earth First! group in protesting the cutting of old growth redwood trees. The idea was to bring environmentalists and timber workers together to oppose the increase of the rate of harvesting that was introduced by new management, as it was completely unsustainable in the long run.

Unfortunately, many timber workers felt antagonised by the activists and they were seen as threatening their livelihoods. Many protests would turn violent and Judi would be targeted as a problematic figure in the protesting and so suffered more than most. In 1989 a logging truck rammed her car while her children were inside, the driver of the truck is said to have left the truck and rushed over shouting “I didn’t see the children!” implying that it was no mere accident that he run into Judi’s car. She also regularly received death threats with one being sent on the lead up to the bombing stating it was her “last warning”.

Judi was a firm believer in non-violent protest so her chosen mode of demonstration was through music. She and Darryl would perform original protest songs that became quite controversial for their use of loaded language. For example, one song was named “Spike a Tree for Jesus”, tree spiking was a careless form of sabotage that included driving a long metal spike into a log so as to damage chainsaws or saws at lumber mills. While effective in sabotaging machinery it was also the cause of serious injury to timber workers. Such an incident happened on May 8th, 1987 at the Louisiana Pacific mill in Cloverdale, California. A large saw blade struck a spike in a log being milled causing shrapnel to fly off and one mill worker, George Alexander, nearly died as a result of the injuries he sustained. At the time, the Earth First! group still had “monkeywrenching” as its main strategy (monkeywrenching being sabotage) so they were blamed for the incident causing them to publicly disavow the practice of tree spiking.

In 1990 Judi was one of the main organisers of the Redwood Summer demonstrations that were supposed to take place to protest the careless logging practices. On May 22nd of that year she would meet with local loggers to agree on ground rules for nonviolence during these demonstrations. A couple of days later she left a house in Oakland that she had been staying at with Darryl Cherney on their way to more organising activities when a pipe bomb would explode in her car.

Both Judi and Darryl survived the incident, but Judi would come away from the explosion seriously injured. The first of many actions taken by the FBI that caused suspicion happened just after the bomb went off. They arrived on the scene at the same time as first responders, suggesting that they knew about the bomb beforehand. Judi herself is quoted as saying it was as if the investigators were “waiting around the corner with their fingers in their ears.” This would be explained later that there had been a tip to law enforcement that “some heavies” were transporting a bomb for sabotage. This, apparently, was the reason for their quick response and the fact that they targeted Judi immediately as a suspect.

Due to Earth First!’s previous known involvement in sabotage campaigns, when the Oakland Police and the FBI immediately accused Judi and Darryl of carrying the bomb to use in an act of terrorism the incident would make headlines all across the nation with the group being labelled as ‘radical’ and tying in potential bombing to their history of ‘monkeywrenching’. While still being treated at a local hospital Judi would be placed under arrest on the same day that the bomb went off. The FBI would exclusively focus on targeting Judi Bari as the main suspect, raiding her home, and pestering anyone they knew she had been in contact with. They claimed to have irrefutable evidence that Judi Bari was guilty and so ignored any evidence that pointed to Judi being the victim. Once it came time to present any of this evidence to a court the FBI did not produce any and the district attorney had no choice but to drop all charges against Judi and Darryl due to a lack of evidence.

There have been many theories as to who was responsible for the bombing. Although never thoroughly investigated by the FBI there was someone that claimed to be the bomber. Just five days after the bombing staff at the Santa Rosa Press Democrat received a letter signed by “The Lords Avenger” claiming responsibility. They went into great detail about the bomb in Judi’s car, as well as a second bomb that had been unsuccessful in blowing up the Cloverdale mill. It was concluded that it was indeed the bomb maker that had written the letter but due to the fact that how they described planting the bomb was implausible in light of evidence it was most likely a way to divert attention away from the actual bomber.

Judi Bari herself believed that the bomber was an acquaintance of hers that was suspected of being an FBI informant. It was revealed that earlier in 1990 the FBI had run a ‘bomb school’ in redwood country showing how to investigate car bombing that bore a striking resemblance to the bombing of Judi’s car. As well as this, Bari’s attorney handed over numerous death threats aimed at Bari to the FBI after the bombing but none of the threats were ever investigated.

Unfortunately, Judi Bari would not live long enough to see some semblance of justice carried out. While she and Darryl opened a civil lawsuit against the FBI when she was still alive, claiming that their first and fourth amendment rights had been violated, she would die due to breast cancer in her home on March 2nd, 1997. Darryl continued the fight and 5 years later in 2002 it was confirmed that their civil rights had indeed been violated. The verdict was that Darryl and Bari’s estate was to be paid a sum of $4.4 million and once the trials gag order was lifted on of the jury members was quoted as saying –

“Investigators were lying so much it was insulting… I’m surprised that they seriously expected anyone would believe them… They were evasive. They were arrogant. They were defensive.”

Although during the trial the theory that the FBI was involved in the bombing was dismissed; it was agreed that the case was restricted to investigative malpractice on the part of the FBI as instead of looking for the real terrorists they instead persecuted the victims simply on the basis of their political activism.

The memorial service held for Judi Bari was attended by around 1000 people. On her request they were all there to have a “party” and to celebrate her life and activism. One of her friends claims that before she died, she asked people to remember what legendary IWW organiser Joe Hill said just before he was executed in 1915: “Don’t mourn. Organize!”

What to do if You’re Being Discriminated Against at Work

When it comes to earning a wage to put food on the table, many people are willing to put up with behaviour they normally wouldn’t. With the cost of living increasing more and more and the minimum wage consistently being below the accepted living wage, a lot of people struggle to make their payslip last the month never mind putting some away for a rainy day. This means that a lot of workers are willing to put up with bullying and discrimination at work in fear that speaking out might lead to them losing their job.

It is important that every worker knows their rights and the laws surrounding wage labour. You do not belong to someone because they pay you a wage to do a job. Below is a list of some of the routes to take if you believe you are being discriminated against

Be Firm

Legally employers have a duty of care to their employees. If you make it clear that someone’s behaviour (either colleague or manager) is making you uncomfortable or angry, firstly, they may not realise how their behaviour is affecting you and could stop when asked. Secondly, it is the legal obligation of your employer to deal with bullying issues. When it comes to any type of harassment there is a list of “Protected Characteristics” that are legally guarded. These are –

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender Reassignment
  • Pregnancy and Maternity
  • Race
  • Religion or Belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual Orientation

Don’t Suffer in Silence

If a colleague is harassing you tell a senior member of staff, every workplace should have a policy on harassment and the issue should be resolved. If it is a manager or your employer that is bullying you discuss it with your colleagues. Find out if they are being mistreated as well. It is infinitely more difficult for an employer to get away with treating their employees poorly if they are a united front that can threaten legal action.

REMEMBER – You do not need to be the one being mistreated for you to raise the issue or raise a formal grievance. If you see a colleague being discriminated against, support them and report the bully. Most workplaces have a grievance procedure but if yours doesn’t you can still raise one. Submit a grievance letter to your line manager or HR and keep a copy for yourself. Always include what the grievance is, any evidence you might have and what you would like done about it.

If unsure, citizens advice is a good resource for helping you with the process.

Join a Union!

Too many people these days don’t know their rights when it comes to joining a union. It is illegal for your employer to fire you or treat you unfavourably over union membership. It is also illegal for an employer to refuse to employ you for being a member of a union (Although some still try and get away with this through blacklists. A topic for an entirely different article.) Not only this but under section 145A of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Consolidation Act 1992 it is illegal for an employer to offer a worker an inducement not to join a union or not take part in union activities. Being a part of a union is the best way to ensure you are treated with respect at work. If you face any of the issues raised above, speaking to a union rep, even if you are not a member, is a good place to start in getting things sorted out.

Please don’t ever suffer through poor treatment. I’ve worked in toxic, bullying environments. In places where you would be told from management that you are replaceable and if you joined a union you would be replaced, and I wish I had known these things then. You deserve dignity and respect in your workplace and there is plenty of people out there willing to fight in your corner to ensure that is what you get.

Never underestimate your worth.

Photo by 🇨🇭 Claudio Schwarz | @purzlbaum on Unsplash

University Strikes: Staff and Students against Management

Across the country, both in Scotland and the rest of the UK, universities are being hit by a 14-day strike, with staff at over 74 universities taking part and thousands joining in support, both workers and students. Universities state they will attempt to keep services unaffected by the industrial action but this statement is looking increasingly hollow as classes are cancelled, and with many students actively supporting the strikers, the universities are increasingly looking like the weaker side. 

The University and College Union, the group that organised this wave of industrial action are taking issue with the way in which treatment of staff is continuing to deteriorate. Increasingly, consultation has set into the industry, with an increase in zero-hour contracts, an unresolved gender pay gap and worsening contract terms. The straw that broke the camel’s back for a lot of staff appears to have been changes to pension schemes meaning staff were paying more without the University increasing payments into the pot in kind. 

This will be the third time that uni staff have gone on strike, the last time happening just before Christmas and negotiations are still not landing at a reasonable result. During this time however support from students, according to the BBC is around 47% among students Keeping in mind this might be the third time some of these students have gone through a strike nearly one in two students still supporting the strike is both surprising and good news for staff. The strikes have also got the support from some politicians, notably including Labour leader candidate Rebecca long Bailey and Labour education shadow secretary Angela Rayner. Support from other parties is a bit quieter, not surprising since in previous strikes in Scotland SNP cuts were directly called out as a reason for industrial action, with Staff and union members warning as early as September last year about SNP policy making strike action more, not less likely. 

Support in Glasgow’s institutes remains high, and many students continuing to join staff at picket lines. The reasons behind the Scottish strikes are a little different than the strikes taking place elsewhere in the UK; as mentioned earlier, the cuts to education in Scotland were a driving cause, as was a reduction in real wages, with union representatives saying that some lecturers have had a reduction in pay of 20% over the last decade. 

One interesting form of protest that has emerged during these strikes is that staff are simply following their contracts to the letter without carrying out any of the additional duties they were doing outside of the role they were hired for. The effectiveness of this strategy is shocking, and cuts to the heart of the issue of casualisation in education. The fact that these institutes are crawling to a halt simply because people are only doing what they are paid to do exemplifies how much of a burden is being pushed on to staff without compensation. By forcing employees to burn the wick at both ends without even fairly compensating them for the additional work they are relied upon for, it was only a matter of time before workers took to defending their livelihoods against a deal that is tightening the screws on them. 

Although students continue to show their support, this has not been without consequences. Some universities have dealt students suspensions and expulsions for supporting staff, aiming to drive a wedge between teachers and students. This policy has put people’s educations at risk and at Stirling University, students that supported the strikes earlier last year were threatened with homelessness as they would be banned from university accommodation. The fact that university management is treating the support for staff with such an iron fist, threatening teenagers with homelessness is deeply chilling. The idea that universities are a place that young people can grow, learn but also develop a voice is not lining up with the reality, where you can now be kicked out on the streets for piping up. 

As the strike continues it’s important we all pay attention to what is going on: our centres of education are putting the squeeze on educators and support staff, and at the same time dealing out draconian punishments to dissenters. If you’re able I would ask you to support the strike in any way you can, or else the next generation will be taught about the world from underpaid, overworked educators and reminded constantly to keep their mouths shut.

Postal Strike

The Communication Worker’s Union, which represents over 110,000 workers within the postal service, voted on whether or not to go on strike. This passed with an incredible majority, with 97% voting yes. With a turnout of around 76% this makes it the most powerful democratic mandate in recent British history. To put that in context, the last time a general election drew a turnout percentage that high was in 1992, before my lifetime.

This strike will be the first of its kind in nearly 10 years, and with numbers like these it’s clear to see that there is a lot of passion behind the vote and a motivated union membership. The strikes come after the CWU said an agreement reached with the Royal Mail to raise pay, reform pensions and reduce weekly working hours from 39 to 35 per week by 2022 was being disregarded, and that management were trying to get out of holding up their end of the bargain. Worse still, there are worries that new CEO Rico Back- who has a reputation for treating workers poorly- will try and turn the tide of reforms back even further.

These concerns are troubling for anyone who works within the postal service, but could also mean a reduced quality of service for those who rely on the Royal Mail as standards are dropped to push for profits. The majority of parcels across the country are delivered via the Royal Mail service, with rural post offices representing vital community hubs. Further privatisation and selling off of assets could cut older or vulnerable people off from the rest of the world as well as hurt the economy. The general secretary of the CWU, Dave Ward, has said that they will “fight the board’s asset stirpping plans” and build the postal service into something that “supports local communities and [in] growing the economy.”

While this is a national vote, Ayrshire is playing a key role: with a ballot turnout higher than the national average, as well as holding gate meetings and demonstrations before the ballot papers even arrived, the Kilmarnock office is a centre of activity and planning. Tam Dewar, the CWU divisional representative for Scotland and Northern Ireland, gave us the following statement:

“Royal Mail Group and Communications Workers Union concluded a groundbreaking agreement in 2017. This tied the Board of the newly privatised Royal Mail to grow rather than contract as a business, to maintain the separate functions as a Group, protected terms and conditions in the face of ‘gig economy’ terms – zero hours contracts with no annual leave or sick pay and no pension entitlements – and agreed a strategy to negotiate changes required through automation, a changing workload and increased consumer demand for next day parcel delivery.

This agreement, “The Four Pillars” was groundbreaking since the privatisations of the past had resulted in asset stripping, wage cutting and job slashing in pursuit of the bottom dollar. And important aspect was an agreed shorter working week to 35 hours as full time employment. Many commentators questioned what RM got in return but the main benefit was a good stood of industrial stability and agreed Agenda for reform.

Within a year of the Agreement being signed RMG gave the CEO Moyà Green a golden parachute of several millions and hefty pension to leave the Board, quickly followed by the Chief Operating Manager and Department heads who had signed the deal. A new CEO was recruited through a £6m buy out from an RMG subsidiary GLS. This was a European based parcels business operated by German National Rico Back, a Swiss based multi millionaire who made his money through atrocious working practised described by a German TV documentary as “verging in slavery”. Mr Back made it plain that he had no international of honouring the 4 Pillars Agreement.

Following reports from throughout the UK that relationships had broken down the CWU notified the RMG Board of our intent to ballot 110,000 members pending a period of external mediation.
The strength of our small Trades Union lies in the fact that we have workplace Reps elected in every Delivery Office. This grass roots organisation of how we communicate in a two way conversation with the National Leadership. Kilmarnock Delivery Office is a case in point. Over 100 Postal delivery workers organised by two elected Reps. While most Offices would have one gate meeting over the 7 week ballot period Kilmarnock held a weekly gate meeting as part of meal relief. In many communities like Kilmarnock a job with Royal Mail provides secure employment with a pension in retirement, sick pay and benefits and annual leave pay. This is especially true in small and remote communities throughout Ayrshire. These terms and conditions were won through the efforts of past generations and this generation has been called upon to defend them and we will.

Our Union is organised from Lands End to Orkney including Northern Ireland. We are organised from the bottom up so no Area is forgotten but there are more Postal Delivery Workers in London than in the whole of Scotland. I hold the post which coordinates Union activity in Scotland and Northern Ireland and have a voice equal to any other part of the UK.
Rural and small town communities like Ayrshire enjoy a six day delivery of one price goes anywhere Postal delivery service. This is at threat both from the Board of Royal Mail Group who want to cut service to maximise profit and from the Postal Regulator Ofcom whose main remit is to encourage competition rather than quality of service. The Isle of Man service has just reduced deliveries to five days and our suspicion is that Ofcom plan a similar attack.
CWU members deliver to every address in the UK. Our golden rule is ‘Never Cross a Picket Line” in respect of the fact that any group of workers going on strike a losing pay must have a genuine grievance. In return many other Trades Unions repay that respect through support at times like these.

Our Union does not want to strike, we want our employer to honour the Agreement made, if not the picket line calls.”

We at the ACU wish the postal workers and the CWU the best of luck in the coming months, and would also encourage our readers to show their support. We would also like to remind anyone upset by the disrupted service not to direct their anger to the hardworking and burned out workers, but the people that have put them in this position, namely Royal Mail Group, who have demonstrated they have no qualms with reneging on a previously established agreement. If we continue to allow private entities to do this, it won’t be long until you face a similar situation with your own employer. Maybe you already have. As this and previous strike action demonstrates, without strong unions we’re at the mercy of empty corporate promises and platitudes.

Interview: Better Than Zero

by Alex Osborne

A few weeks ago I wrote an article on the Gig Economy in Glasgow, and talked about the spreading practice of treating employees as independent contractors to avoid giving workers their rights. Another practice that is part of the Gig Economy that I did not explore in depth to explore is the increasing amount of workers that are being kept on zero hour contracts. Employees on these contracts can be treated incredibly poorly by employers, and can be dismissed with little to no warning. These contracts also compound the effects of other forms of maltreatment by bosses, like wage deductions and management taking a portion of tips from service workers, putting workers into an even more precarious position where they are not guaranteed a job tomorrow and not guaranteed a proper wage today.

One group that is working to fight against this type of precarious work is Better Than Zero. They do this by helping to educate workers on their rights as well as more direct means of protest targeted at employers that abuse their employees. I was lucky enough to interview Sarah Collins, one of the founding members of Better Than Zero to get a bit more information on the group.

How did Better Than Zero first get started?

Better than Zero was launched in 2015 in an attempt to address the decreasing youth membership across unions and increasing precarity in the workplace and lives of young workers.  It was inspired by the Fight for $15 campaign, resourced by the SEIU union in the USA which employed grassroots greenfield social movement organising tactics.  With the aim of eradicating zero hours contracts (ZHCs) in the workplace in order to stabilise young workers’ livelihoods and lives, including by ensuring young workers know their rights in work and how to enforce them, the campaign’s overall objective is to increase union membership in under-30s, create workplace leaders, and encourage union activity  within precarious non-unionised workplaces. The campaign uses stunts and flash mobs to highlight the use of ZHCs, and other problems at work, including deductions in wages, safety at work and other discriminatory practices.

Better than Zero is a solidarity network that builds union action in non-unionised sectors including hospitality, fast food, and customer services in Scotland. It has a solid core of activists and a fluid community of 14,000 Facebook followers, who help to compose a real-time chronicle of day-to-day working life by sending accounts of exploitation every day.

What have been some of the biggest hurdles the group faced in its earlier days?

BtZ began by challenging Scotland’s biggest hospitality employer, G1, through the use of creative stunts and direct actions, due to them not paying the minimum wage (after uniform costs etc).

A lot of employers think they are too big to be challenged; but we met with HR director of G1 who said their staff turnover was 161% in the past year so they had to change! We worked with him to stop zero hours contract but then he left the company.  Big employers aren’t scared of being taken to tribunal, but when they are they face bad publicity – https://glasgowguardian.co.uk/2015/09/05/g1-employees-stage-protest-on-ashton-lane-against-alleged-exploitation-2/

 – and we can win anyway! https://www.heraldscotland.com/news/16595240.scots-workers-win-unfair-dismissal-cases-against-g1-in-landmark-case/

What made you, yourself, invested in the fight against zero hour contacts?

I was involved initially as one of two Better than Zero organisers in 2015. I was already a member of Unite the Union and had previously had experience of working in hospitality where I organised against a big employer in Ayrshire to stop them from taking our tips over Christmas time. Zero hours contracts, for me, was just a further method of exploitation that had to be challenged.

The campaign grew from a few activists organising their own challenges to having hundreds of messages coming in every few months requesting help or advice with their employer. More people were directed to join a trade union, with Unite setting up a hospitality branch, cinema workers joining Bectu and fast food workers joining the Bakers’ Union.

What achievements are you, personally most proud of?

I’m a member of staff for the union so the thing I’m most proud of is that it’s been 8 years since I was working in hospitality, and at that point I couldn’t see any way for unions to take hospitality organising seriously. But through us starting BTZ we have ensured that hundreds of hospitality staff know their rights, have collectivised and joined a union, organised walk outs – https://www.reddit.com/r/glasgow/comments/7p5t1i/the_evening_times_on_twitter_boss_of_dows_bar_at/

and protests – https://www.facebook.com/UniteHospitality/posts/611056332627356 (Ayr) all over the country.

There’s still a lot of work to be done for precarious workers but at least their voices are beginning to be heard again.

Better than Zero has launched a new campaign – cat calling it out – against sexual harassment.

Zero hour contracts are becoming more and more common, with over 1.8 million contacts of this type being in use across the UK in 2017, and having grown since. What are some of the actions workers could take to turn the tide?

Whilst zero hours contracts are not eradicated, and we have seen new forms of precarious working across lots of sectors, including a small growth in the gig economy in Scotland, more precarious workers now know where to turn for advice. However, more importantly, Better than Zero also trains workers through “take control” courses about their rights, and about how to stand up for themselves and others in the workplace.

In 2015 the Scottish Government railed against “unfair” use of these contracts and more recently in 2018 again called to end exploitative work, do you think enough is being done?

The Scottish government would not have announced a fair work first approach to procurement (including that contract bidders shouldn’t use zero hours) if it wasn’t for the work of better than zero and trade unions. However, enforcement always lies with the worker which is why it is so important that all workers  – regardless of where they work or length of service – join a trade union.

If an employee feels they are being mistreated under a zero hour contract what is the best way for them to contact Better Than Zero?

Better than zero on facebook @bebetterthanzero – message to contact us

A big thank you to Sarah for taking the time to answer our questions, for more information on Better Than Zero, take a look at their site here http://www.betterthanzero.scot/

Glasgow Gig Economy

by Alex Osborne

We are currently living through the gig economy, a situation where more and more people are working freelance or on short term contracts for companies. Something that is being sold to us as a way of working more flexibly that, more often than not, boils down to a company that you work for withholding your workers’ rights.

A particular service that is becoming a hotbed of legal debate and industrial action is food delivery services like Ubereats and Deliveroo. Drivers for these companies are typically classed as contractors rather than workers so that companies can avoid giving them things ranging from holiday pay and sick pay, to simpler things like a guarantee of work the next day. This loose legal standing allows these companies to mistreat their workers with little to no recourse. In one particularly Dickensian example Deliveroo dismissed over a 100 of its drivers from across the country with no warning days before Christmas last year.  

Drivers for these companies have, however, started to organize. Poor pay and difficult working conditions, typical of the gig economy, has led delivery drivers in London to go on strike at the time of writing. This is not the first case of this to occur, similar strikes occurred in Plymouth last year and in our own Glasgow drivers from Ubereat and Deliveroo teamed up with the Industrial Workers of the World to form the Couriers Network Scotland in April of last year.

The CNS condensed their demands into what they call “The 3 W’s”. A guaranteed minimum wage, a reduction in the time wasted in between deliveries (which drivers are not paid for) and welfare for drivers in the form of adequate safety equipment. These demands may seem simple, a minimum wage and safety precautions at work, but this exemplifies the lack of support workers in the gig economy are provided.

The poor working conditions affect more groups than solely delivery drivers, nearly 3 million workers in the UK as of 2017 were classified as working within the gig economy, with work ranging to pretty much anything that would let an employer classify their employees as independent contractors.

I say employer’s rather than company intentionally, in October 2018 foster carers from both the Foster Care Workers Union and Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain protested in George Square as various local authorities were not providing their foster care workers with any protections to unfair dismissal, using the same arguments that exploitative for-profit private companies make use of.

While the legal and industrial battles still rage on to this day groups like the Couriers Network and Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain are fighting against the exploitative and precarious work offered by the gig economy. If you’re a worker in the gig economy consider reaching out to groups like the Couriers network and see what can be done in your area.

Photo by Artur Kraft on Unsplash