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How workers are fighting back against low pay and zero hours

This article is over 7 years, 3 months old
Low paid workers are unable to make ends meet as bosses cut their hours and attack their conditions—but they are organising resistance in Britain and beyond, reports Nick Clark
Issue 2450
fast food Rights protest outside a McDonald’s in London last week
Fast Food Rights protest outside a McDonald’s in London last week (Pic: Guy Smallman)

More and more workers are struggling with low pay and poor working conditions as bosses make them suffer to weather the financial crisis.

Kieran, a restaurant worker at Heathrow Airport, knows this too well. His bosses are trying to cut workers’ hours at the same time as taking more money off them.

He told Socialist Worker, “I’ve been working at the restaurant for 15 years. They pay the minimum wage and take 30 percent of our credit card tips—now they want to take that up to 60 percent”.

He added, “I’m on a 35-hour contract. But last week they only gave me 28 because there wasn’t enough work. It’s completely illegal, but they’ll try and get away with anything”.

The attacks are linked to the issue of zero hours contracts, which are making life a misery for thousands of workers in Britain.

The contracts don’t guarantee a set number of hours. Instead they give bosses power to alter hours on a daily or weekly basis. 

This means workers never know how much money they will have coming in from one week to the next. Toni works in two different cafes on zero hours contracts in Glasgow.

“You can’t really plan from one week to the next,” she told Socialist Worker. “I’m lucky I don’t have a car or a family or a mortgage. But there are a lot of people on zero hours contracts who do.

“If I get my rota for my other job and the shifts don’t match up they just cut my hours. 


“The only reason I’m doing two shifts in the first place is that I don’t have enough money to live on.”

Kiya, a hotel worker in London, is not on a zero hours contract—but still has problems with hours.

She said, “On reception we work eight and a half hour shifts, with half an hour taken off for a break.

“That’s pretty much eight solid hours on your feet. When we ask for a break our supervisor thinks it’s a strange thing. They tell me I’m lucky because agency workers don’t get them at all. 

“They seem to think we don’t need any breaks”.

The attacks on workers’ conditions can be linked to the economic crisis. When profits fall or stagnate, bosses will try to squeeze as much as they can out of workers by forcing them to work longer for less.

But there has been resistance. Low paid workers and workers on zero hours contracts are joining unions and organising a fightback.

As Toni said, “Fighting back starts with us. Without us, the bosses would be fuck all.”

Some workers’ names have been changed

‘People have to organise fightback in their workplace’

Low paid workers and other activists held protests across Britain on Wednesday of last week. The demonstrations were organised by the Fast Food Rights campaign. 

They were part of an international day of action demanding an end to zero hours contracts, to demand a living wage and building trade union organisation.

Cafe workers on zero hours contracts Toni and Lorna led the march in Glasgow. Lorna told Socialist Worker, “Our boss actually said to me if he was to pay his staff a living wage he would lose £1,200 a year. That’s nothing. That’s £25 a week”. 

She added, “He’s going on a motorbike holiday to the states next week.

“He’s got plenty of money for that and he won’t even pay his staff enough to live on. He keeps all the profits that we make.”

Lorna and Toni have both joined the food workers’ union Bfawu. And they’re getting others to do the same. Lorna said, “People have got to join the union—they’ve got to organise to fight back in their workplaces. They need to start taking action and doing stuff.”

The Fast Food Rights campaign was launched by the bakers’ union Bfawu at a meeting hosted by Labour MP John McDonnell and Unite the Resistance in January last year.

Bfawu national president Ian Hodson joined the protest in London. He told Socialist Worker, “The fundamental part of the campaign is that we remind people of their power—that it’s people who change things.”

He also said that the union will consider strikes if bosses refuse to listen to workers’ demands.

“If management aren’t prepared to talk, we’re going to have to take action,” he said. 

“If that means hitting them where it hurts by stopping them from being able to sell products, then that’s what we’ll do.”

Get involved in the campaign

60,000 take to US streets

Tens of thousands of striking low paid workers in more than 200 cities across the US walked out of work to join protests on Wednesday of last week.

Some 60,000 joined demonstrations in cities including Boston, New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles and New Orleans.

It was the biggest action yet in the fight to make $15 (£10) an hour the minimum wage and for union rights. 

The protests were also the largest by low paid workers in US history. Some 15,000 took demonstrated in New York City.

The Fight for $15 campaign began with fast food workers in New York in 2012. It has since widened to involve other low paid workers.

Wednesday’s protesters included home-care assistants, Walmart workers, child-care aides, airport workers and other low wage workers. 

The global day of action also saw strikes in Italy, France and New Zealand. And low paid workers joined demonstrations in over 40 countries, including Brazil and Hong Kong.

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