“You have the right to organise”

Interview with a Sheffield Pizza Hut worker and member of the IWW about organising in the workplace and the re-launch of the Sheffield General Members Branch. The interview was carried out by the Fargate Speaker.

Where do you work?

I’m Rob, I work at a Pizza Hut in Sheffield. I have worked there on and off for almost a decade now, over the years I have gotten trained up on every aspect, excluding management, so I guess you could just describe me as a random Bod really. Over that 9 years or so, I have noticed many things that I thought were out-of-order, like restrictions, or a ridiculous amount of hours, messing people  around, shocking pay and conditions, bad health and safety, especially regarding the bike drivers. The line managers are pretty friendly and I would consider them friends, but ultimately it has been a process of realising that they are as much a tool of the bosses as we are, in many cases they get it worse.

However, one thing that has always kept me nose out of it, is that unionism, seemed to me was for when I got a ‘proper’ job, not for now. But working a job for ten years I am pretty sure that counts as a proper fucking job, regardless of what it is. This is partially the first thing that attracted me to the IWW. When living in Lincoln I tried to organise at a call centre I briefly worked at, there, unlike Pizza Hut, I was promptly sacked for my efforts. The difference there was I was organising through GMB. When planning to organise at my workplace I spoke to my local rep, whose idea of support was to give me 10-15 leaflets and some branded pens, bearing in mind he knew I was completely inexperienced. No matter how passionate I was, it was simply an impossible mountain to climb.

What attracted to you the IWW?

The IWWs history has always been one, with some exceptions, of organising among unskilled workers; basically those the main stream unions ignore. For me one quote says it all. ‘Big’ Bill Haywood, a founder of the IWW, said, during a speech at the initial conference in Chicago 1904, ‘I don’t give a snap a my fingers whether skilled workers join this union or not, there are 36 million workers in this country who aren’t organised.’ That for me says it all, and points to the biggest hole in the existing labour movement. One that I feel a union with a focus on taking a fighting syndicalist approach can fill.

I also feel that a new approach is needed, regarding union bureaucracy and hierarchy, another thing the IWW approaches differently. Through a concentration on widening skills, and member run unionism rather than centralising participation, the IWW is building skills among the membership at large rather than selected representatives, developing differently, building, I feel a more grass-roots orientated organisation.

What do you think the IWW offers workers in the service/restaurant industry?

Anyone who has experienced USDAW (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers) will know, they do not work for you, they are little more than a scab union that will abuse a situation simply to get a recognition agreement to then further the interests of its paid employees. It’s a business, nothing more, and an affront to the labour movement. In the service industry it is clear we need union representation. Working conditions have been steadily worsening and massive job losses are on the horizon for most businesses. Lloyds TSB’s announcement of a further 15,000 job losses represents clear evidence of this, not to mention the  closure of HMV stores and many other high street names.

The IWW brings together workers regardless of nation, employer or job title, and in the service industry this is essential. For example, if store and warehouse workers organise together a far more crippling attack can be planned and greater demands made. If, as with my case Pizza Hut, workers in France are organising, as they are, an international union can take the approach of building an international movement against an international brand.

The IWW’s focus on training also helps. Rather than parachuting in a representative (although they do also do this, but with the aim of building collective knowledge and skills), through training and skill sharing we share our ability to protect ourselves, our fellow workers and for them to protect each other and themselves. The IWW has a long history of a radically different form of unionism, one that given the developments in the power of international capital and the casualistion of labour, I feel, are becoming even more relevant. It has also long welcomed many regardless of their political ideology, in a way that may be its strongest point, that it can bring us together as an open and autonomous movement.

How do we get involved?

Getting involved is easy, as the IWW is a member run organisation you can become as active as you like. Although you are more than welcome to join so we can help protect you at work, our approach has always been to encourage and enable people to take more active roles, ether as organisers in their own workplaces, case workers, trainers, regional reps, branch secretaries, communication officers etc. It is about finding a role you feel that offers you the chance to use your talents.

So you can either get in touch with your local branch, or if there is not one we can help you form one, or if you would like to form a workplace branch we would also readily encourage that, please get in touch.

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