Need advice on trying to organise at work...

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Precarious Worker
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May 30 2011 13:05
Need advice on trying to organise at work...

Hi everyone,

Basically I work in fairly large a hotel in north of England and I want to try and start organising there. As far as I know there is not even one single union member, although I have not asked all the employees, no-one I have spoken to about it has really given it that much thought. I'm facing a few problems though and have had a few conversations with some more experienced people but I wanted to ask some advice here too as I have not attempted to do anything like this before...

Firstly I am a casual employee, on a 0 hour contract and I am worried that if I try and organise openly or that if I am found out to be trying to organise I will lose my job, which I dont want to do.

Also, pretty much all the people in my department and I'd say a good chunk of the total staff in the hotel are in the same position as me in terms of job security which might well inhibit them from wanting to join in with something like this, especially if people start getting victimised.

What do people think my first steps should be? I have been trying to talk to a few people I trust there about it with a view to seeing if they are up for practically helping but havent taken anything further than initial conversations.

Cheers

Harrison
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May 30 2011 12:51

hey, I've heard a lot of good things about Solidarity Federation's organiser training stuff:
http://www.solfed.org.uk/?q=organiser-training

i'd imagine they'd also be happy to answer your questions as well.

There is also the IWW, although i'm not aware that they run the same organiser trainings.

PS. be careful what you say on the internet about your workplace (ie, be careful it cannot be traced back to you)

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Joseph Kay
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May 30 2011 13:03

I spoke to some AFed members from up your way recently and there was some interest in the SolFed training, so we might be able to arrange one in your area soon. Stuff like a zero hours contract does make you vulnerable, but that's all the more reason to do things carefully and deliberately.

The general approach i'd suggest (in line with the SolFed training) is to get to a point where you're meeting regularly with a group of workmates outiside work to discuss problems, think of ways to involve others (and ideally decide on actions you can take together). in terms of how to get to that point, it's hard to summarise in a forum post, but mapping out your workplace physically and socially, making contacts with other workers outside your immediate work group/social circle and identifying issues which can be collectivised to agitate around are all pretty key.

I'd also echo the warning to be careful about posting details in a public forum. In the recent Office Angels dispute the guy involved asked for advice here, and because he gave specifics they identified him and hassled him. as he'd already stopped working for them that was the end of it, but you don't want to tip them off before you even begin. So it might be worth editing the city to somewhere else just to be on the safe side.

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May 30 2011 13:25

JK's given a very good, concise summary of the SF training, so I won't repeat it. What I will say is that it sounds as if you've already made a first step, namely in talking to your fellow employees about your workplace. You say that you're experiencing problems at work - what about your workmates, are they having the same problems? It's important to find out what your individual grievances are and then collectivise them. That's the root of any organising attempt.

What are the issues you're facing at work? If you think it's safe to say, that is.

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Steven.
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May 30 2011 13:42

The details in your post are now generic enough to assure your confidentiality.

As the poster above says, what are the main problems you face at work? Is it the insecurity, zero hour contracts, the pay, bullying or what?

I would say that some people when they think about organising at work automatically think about starting a union, but that won't necessarily actually get you anything. If most of you are on zero hour contracts I would think that this is the kind of workplace where a union would not be that much use for you, if any

Here are a couple of texts about people organising in extremely casual workplaces:

http://libcom.org/library/the-couriers-are-revolting-the-despatch-industry-workers-union-1989-1992
http://libcom.org/library/interview-with-mcdonalds-workers-resistance

You could also have a look at our workplace organising section:
http://libcom.org/organise/workplace-organising

Or our section of people's accounts of their organising activity at work:
http://libcom.org/tags/workplace-activity

Precarious Worker
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May 30 2011 13:49

Thanks for your comments so far.

The workers in the hotel are split up into different departments, so the issues people are facing are quite different whether they are chefs, housekeeping or whatever. In our department there are quite a few issues, I havent had a proper break in a month despite the fact that they deduct this time from our pay. They are also supposed to supply us with food but as we dont get breaks this doesnt happen often. Rotas are often completed the day before the week begins so you never know when youre working or not until the last minute and we are almost all casual so you have to do whatever youre offered. There are some people who have a fulltime contract with a salary but they do not get paid overtime and do not get time in lieu given properly so they can often end up earning a worse hourly wage than the casuals on a busy week and we only get minimum wage anyway.

I dont know if you wanted that much detail!

I'd definitely be interested in doing the SolFed training if there was one around in the north and regarding the security is it possible to delete threads in future if i needed to cover my tracks?

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jef costello
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May 30 2011 14:00

It is possible to delete threads although they remain searchable by google for a while afterwards (usually a couple of days at least). Best bet is not to give too much information, especially not where it is public.
Zero hour contracts are awful and with the last minute shifts they are really out of order. One thing to bear in mind is that although you can have your hours cut immediately those hours and that work still needs doing. So if you all stick together then they cannot push you too far. Also deadlines are tight in hotels so if a group of you refuse to work one morning they will not be able to cover you and turn around those rooms. The problem is getting fired before you get into a position where you can act as a group (and how you know when you have reached that position.) I'd say follow the advice given here, in terms of demands an early 'reasonable' demand might be for shifts to be prepared a certain amount of time in advance. Good Luck.

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Ed
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May 30 2011 14:10

Yeah, having a nice easy early demand is always a good starter (to show your workmates that you can win stuff together..). Jef's suggestion is a good one, another one that seems workable would be taking your breaks. If you've got the breaks written into your contracts (or even if not, UK employment law entitles you to 20 minutes break in every six hours of work), then you can organise collectively just to all take the breaks you're entitled to..

And yeah, don't give the game away early! I recently had to stop a mate from sending an email round to everyone in his department (including managers) about organising. It's an easy mistake to make but don't let management know what's going on til you know you've got some organisational muscle behind you..

All the best mate!

posi
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May 30 2011 14:20

Do you know anyone in other departments? Is it easy to find a chance to talk, even briefly, with these workers on a regular basis?

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Awesome Dude
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May 30 2011 15:11

How Long have you been working there? Be very careful when asking about unions and any previous confrontations with management. If found out you'll probably end up with zero hours (its happened to me before). Suggest going to the pub after work or a pre arranged social with some of your colleauges. Usually after 3 or 4 sessions people open up and start talking about the work environment and workplace relationships. From there you'll find out who to appoach first to talk about organising and who to definately avoid. It maybe wise to approach some disgruntled trust worthy full-timer(s) and suggest they go about setting up an informal staff gathering to talk about pay and conditions.

It may well be the case that there is a union recognition policy in place and that the local branch is disfuctional or doesnt meet in the workplace. To find out I suggest getting friendly with one of the 'disgruntled' workers who's worked there for years. If it does turn out that there is a union recognition policy let us know and I'm sure one of the seasoned shop stewards who post here regularly will be able to help.

As regards organiser training courses (they are a standard course provided by all unions IWW included) I'd be careful suggesting that they are a magic bullet that will solve every eventuallity. But they will give you a rough idea about how to go about organising in your workplace. But be very careful because its usually assumed in these courses that you have a secure contract of employment and enjoy regular hours.

Precarious Worker
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May 30 2011 20:45

This is great advice so thanks to everyone.

As for the early demand, I think the breaks issue is a good call and since I know most of the people in my department quite well it would be a reasonably easy thing to bring up among mates.

I do get to meet people from other departments in passing and grab a chat here and there. Some more than others but its not easy to form good relationships with a lot of people in other departments as we are so disconnected.

I dont want to make it abundantly clear who I am on this thread but I have worked there on and off for quite a while now so I know most of the people who have been there for a long time.

Another piece of advice Im looking for is where do people draw the line in terms of who to include in any action? It goes without saying that Managers are excluded and I would also want to exclude Assistant Managers however would be willing to include any Supervisors who I trusted, after all they can end up getting even less pay than the full-time workers with the extra work they are expected to do and they do not have the power to hire/fire. Would you draw the line at people who can hire/fire or would you exclude anybody in the hierarchy?

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May 30 2011 21:24

When it comes down to who to include in your organising, whilst managers are an obvious group to exclude, you should take things on a case-by-case basis. When you have your first one-to-one chats with co-workers, you should get a fairly good idea of who'll react positively to potential organising and who won't. This is what we mean when we talk about 'socially mapping' your workplace. It's all about who you think you can get onside and who you can't.

Remember, just because someone is on the same rung as the ladder as you doesn't mean they'll inherently take your side. Some people have their eyes set on climbing the hierarchy themselves and would thus be more likely to take the side of management in a dispute. On the other hand, there are always going to be people on the fence who can be swayed by careful efforts.

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Chilli Sauce
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May 30 2011 21:49

I'd also caution against assuming titles are the basis for who to include in an action/workplace committee/organizing drive. So, for example, in Starbucks the "shift supervisor" is a just a worker who gets paid an extra 20 cents an hour and given extra responsibility without any actual authority. These workers are encouraged to join the Starbucks Workers Union. Alternatively, my line manager is a teacher for a couple lessons a week and is a member of the NUT, but fuck them, they are a manager first and foremost and they are probably the main target of organizing in my department.

As a general rule, SF says if one has the power to hire and fire or discipline, don't get them involved.* If people like that are supportive, great. When the time comes ask them not to cross a picket line, but don't build that sort of contradiction into a workplace organization.

*I know this isn't foolproof and that in certain industries, for example, certain workers may be given input in hiring. But that debate has been had a dozen times over, let's keep this thread nice and focused.

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RedEd
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May 30 2011 21:45

if you are going to start organising, try and keep lots and lots of paper records of how many hours you work each week, what managers say to you and about your work and so on, any conversations about possible 'restructuring' anything about your current duties, make sure your contract is up to date, and reflects the job you do. If you do this, then you will be able to make a much better case for victimisation if the fire you or stop giving you hours or give you warnings about poor quality work as a way of hassling you for organising.

On the breaks issue, when I worked in fast food, managers would often try and screw us out of our breaks, so since most of us there were teens who didn't care much about our jobs, some of us just started just leaving if we had any unused break time left at the end of a shift. Ten minutes of unused break time = leave ten minutes early (sneaking out, usually), no matter what the shift managers says. Our contractual situation put us on fairly firm ground doing this, i think, plus as i say, we weren't that reliant on our pay checks, but I reckon using this form of enforcing our basic rights, had we done it collectively and explicitly, could have been an easy first step at proper organising. But this is just something that arose organically and could have been formalised. If its not arising organically, it may make no sense to use the idea.

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Chilli Sauce
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May 30 2011 21:48

As SF says in the organizer training: if you don't have a workplace notebook, you're not organizing.

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Steven.
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May 30 2011 23:23

Yeah, with managers or supervisors, like others have said it's not the job title that matters, it's what they are like. Similarly, colleagues could potentially rat you out if they think they might get something out of it in terms of favours from management. Early on, it's best to keep that kind of discussion very casual, and in general terms. You say you have been a while, so you probably have an idea of who you can trust, you can't, who are the jobsworths, and who are the people who just work there for the pay cheque etc

Mouzone
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Jun 27 2011 22:10
Steven. wrote:

You could also have a look at our workplace organising section:
http://libcom.org/organise/workplace-organising

Thought I'd just mention the broken link on this page, 2nd last paragraph.

Quote:
Different ways of taking action are outlined ere.

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jonglier
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Jun 28 2011 18:54
Quote:
the people who just work there for the pay cheque

as opposed to who, exactly?? wink