The Sheffield branch of the Industrial Workers of the World (the IWW, or “wobblies”) won its latest victory on the 23rd of November, against the Greedy Greek restaurant. The union had been informed that as well as paying workers with poor english skills less than minimum wage, stealing tips, short changing customers and forcing workers to work 20 hours of “trial shifts” for free, the owner of the Greedy Greek had been violent towards a member of staff, and when that worker took issue with this at the end of the shift he was sacked. While this kind of treatment by bosses is not uncommon, this particular worker was a member of the IWW, and wasn’t going to stand for it.
After the owner, Dennis Mouzakis (nicknamed “Dennis the Menace” by union members) hid from a delegation of union members when they visited to try and sort out the issue, a campaign of pickets was started to force the owner to show respect towards the workers, give workers back pay for their unpaid “trial shifts”, abide by the minimum wage law and reinstate the sacked union member with back pay.
RABL members joined the second picket on the 25th of October. A line of union members and sympathisers carrying union banners and red, black, and red-and-black flags, stretched across the entire front of the restaurant. Other members with leaflets were positioned around the area to talk to potential customers, inform them of the dispute and persuade them not to go to the Greedy Greek. A special mention goes to one Sheffield IWW banner, featuring a giant wildcat with laser vision chasing a terrified boss with the slogan “get the bosses on the run!”, which turned quite a few heads over the course of the evening. In contrast to a lot of pickets this one was very lively, the participants keeping up a constant stream of chants and union songs and even an acoustic set played by local wobbly musicians, and were well supported by passers by. This energy and enthusiasm was continued in subsequent pickets, which were well attended even in the worst weather.
On the 23rd of November, Sheffield IWW announced that the workers in the Greedy Greek had told them that new starters were no longer being forced to do unpaid trial shifts, were being paid for the full hours they were working and the owner had started treating them with more respect – even organising a monthly BBQ for the staff! With the demands affecting the workers successfully met and the sacked union member having found new employment, the campaign ended in another victory.
These sorts of tactics have been used recently by groups like the IWW and the Solidarity Federation pretty successfully – Brighton Hospitality Workers (a SolFed initiative) has won over £6000 for workers in 6 successful campaigns this year, the IWW’s Pizza Hut Workers Union won a national pay increase for delivery drivers, and in Leeds the local IWW branch won £600 for one worker just 20 minutes after beginning their first picket. Abroad, the Seattle Solidarity Network has won numerous fights with bosses and landlords using similar methods. Needing relatively few people to be effective, being able to win tangible improvements in peoples lives, and being effective at attracting the interest of workers with similar problems – several passers-by on Saturday talked about problems they’d had with their bosses and asked if the IWW would be willing to help them – these sorts of campaigns are a good way to make anarchist and libertarian communist ideas and methods relevant, particularly to the growing number of people who are going to be renting from landlords for their entire lives and working in the service industry, where businesses are particularly vulnerable to this kind of pressure. As Sheffield IWW say in their blog announcement:
“Through campaigns such as this one, we can show that there is an alternative to simply accepting the poor working conditions and management abuse that are a daily reality at work. It is possible to organise and win real improvements in our working conditions in the here and now. The Greedy Greek campaign has been greatly appreciated by the local community, which has been overwhelmingly supportive. It is clear that the new unionism of the IWW is responding to deeply felt needs and resonating with a wide cross-section of our society. We celebrate the victory at the Greedy Greek and look forward to taking on more and larger campaigns in the struggle for economic democracy.”
Once again, direct action gets results.