Sacked for joining a union
'We want jobs, and justice too'
By Matthew Cookson
FOUR CHINESE workers have recently been sacked from a restaurant in London's Chinatown. Their "crime" was joining the TGWU trade union. They are now campaigning to get their jobs back. They see their struggle as part of a fight to win union rights for every worker in Chinatown. Socialist Worker spoke to them about their experiences in Britain and their struggle for justice.
Zhe Ming Zen, Kam Yui Cheung, Chi Fai Chan and Hung Man Lo are typical of the hundreds of Chinese waiters and workers who work in sweatshop conditions in Chinese restaurants across Britain. "We have all been living in Britain for over ten years now," says Zhe Ming. "Kam has been here for 24 years. I am originally from Canton City in mainland China while Chan, Lo and Kam are all from Hong Kong. I came to study for an MBA and decided to stay."
Kam says, "The only jobs open to us in this country are in the catering business. There are a lot of examples of racism against immigrants, and working in Chinatown guarantees some protection." "Between us we have around 28 years of working at the same restaurant," says Chan. "It is a long and hard job," Zhe Ming said. "You never get a break. "Chinatown is a very busy place. There is low pay and you work for 10 to 12 hours a day. There is no time to think. You put yourself into a life of working and sleeping. Every time you make a small mistake the bosses condemn you with dirty language."
"We never get any compensation when we have an accident," adds Kam. "You don't get a pay slip until you are made redundant. There is no holiday pay, little health and safety, and no written contract. We joined a trade union because it guarantees our rights on every issue."
Zhe Ming says, "We have set up our group, Justice for Restaurant Workers, to give things back to the staff in Chinatown. This is the first time anything like this has happened in Chinatown. It is a significant thing and is happening all over the world. I heard the same story has happened in the New York Chinatown. We have to get huge trade union support to win our jobs back. We want to win our struggle in the traditional way. We have shown our power and strength in our pickets of the restaurant. Through our fight we have come into contact with socialists who are now our friends. There are many new things that we have had to think about-what's going on in the world. We are against more privatisation. People are suffering from more profit for rich men. They are banging us down. We have to stop them making more profit. I come from mainland China. The Communist Party took power in 1949. But they have taken up private positions in the government and the military to make more profit. They use the name of socialism. It's upsidedown. Now the only way they can stay in power is by inviting the multinationals in. People want democracy. A lot of people are still fighting for their rights in China. The leaders have said that only rifles are socialism-nothing else. They used the tanks and the army against the students in Tiananmen Square in 1989."
All four workers are determined to keep up their fight for their jobs and respect for every restaurant worker in Chinatown and beyond. Every trade unionist and all those who oppose sweatshop labour should give them their support.
DEMONSTRATE: Friday 27 July, New Diamond restaurant, Lisle Street, London. Phone 07958 732 334