An explanation of the approach of the anarcho-syndicalist union Brighton SolFed.
A worker at a launderette in Kemptown came to us because they were owed over £1000 of holiday pay - when they had tried to ask for the money they were owed, the management ignored and demeaned them. Together with them we contacted the management and explained that they were flagrantly violating employment law - they gave in to our demands within the hour, before we started a single picket.
"When me and my work colleagues only received a 2% pay rise last year, we collectively demanded a one-off cost-of-living payment to bring it up to 3%, and threatened action if we didn't get at least 5% the next year. We have now won on both counts without the need for any action" - Brighton SolFed member
The ongoing cost of living crisis has been impossible to ignore. With wages stagnating while inflation runs rampant, dissatisfaction with worsening conditions is widespread.
This crisis has aggravated an already dire situation for workers. Here in Brighton, where much of the economy is based in the hospitality sector, exploitation is rampant – even rights supposedly guaranteed by law (e.g. minimum wage, holiday pay) are frequently ignored by employers. Many workers are in precarious employment situations and thus face barriers that make it difficult to organise their workplace.
The wave of strike action across a wide range of industries over the past year has given workers across Britain an encouraging example of what they can achieve when they organise collectively. However, despite some union bosses being made into media celebrities on the back of this wave, there have sadly been cases where union leaderships have undermined this potential. For example, in February this year the General Secretaries and Executives of Unison, Unite, EIS, GMB and UCU cancelled strike action by members in the higher education sector based on a vague offer from employers, some without even consulting their own members beforehand. Not only was this a blatantly undemocratic move that weakened the momentum the strikes had, it was entirely consistent with how union bureaucracies have treated their rank and file throughout history – for all their talk of ‘representing’ their workers, their role has frequently been to contain and restrict the power that workers possess when they organise.
Who are we?
We are a grassroots union organised by and for workers in a variety of workplaces, unemployed people, and students. We believe that the interests of workers and the bosses who employ them are fundamentally opposed to one another. As workers, we rely on the work we do for our bosses to make a living – not just to scrape by on the bare minimum to feed ourselves and pay the rent, but ideally to be able to live comfortably and enjoy ourselves as well. The primary motivation of our bosses, on the other hand, is to maximise their profits. Obviously they need us to work for them, otherwise they wouldn’t get anything done – but they will try to make us work as many hours for as little pay as they think they can get away with, often disregarding the legal rights we have on paper.
We believe this exploitation is best resisted by workers organising themselves, and not by anyone who claims to act on their behalf (such as political parties, or the bureaucratic officials of mainstream unions). Through this principle of direct action, we believe we can fight for a world without domination by bosses, politicians, or anyone else. This is anarcho-syndicalism.
What do we do?
We have had many successes in the past ten years taking on businesses that underpay, overwork and mistreat workers in our local area, and showing workers that direct action is an effective strategy for demanding better conditions. However, organising disputes alongside workers from outside the organisation is only a part of what we do. As workers ourselves, we are each active in our own workplaces on a daily basis, building collective resistance against exploitation from the ground up.
Here are just a few more examples of successful disputes we have had in the past:
- A former worker at a pub in Kemptown was unfairly dismissed for calling in sick once after nine months of working there, and had not been paid the holiday pay they were entitled to. We organised a number of pickets with the worker to demand compensation and the unpaid holiday pay - while the management did not give compensation, they did cough up the holiday pay, and told us that they had also handed in their notice at the pub. Result!
- “I worked at a café where one worker was being paid less than minimum wage. When they told me this I helped to spread the word among other coworkers. The boss raised our colleague's pay to what they were legally owed after everyone kept complaining" - Brighton SolFed member
- A cabaret in Kemptown did not provide the legally required information on rates of pay in the contract it issued to one of its workers. They also paid them less than they were told they would get, leading to over £1500 in unpaid wages. After we sent them a single demand letter, they agreed to pay the owed wages in full - before we had even started a public campaign
SolFed is not a charity; we are workers organising for ourselves and other workers. We do not replicate hierarchies that you see in your workplace by doing things for you with resources that you do not get access to. Wherever the word “we” is mentioned, this means the workers who are members of SolFed and you the worker who has come for help and solidarity. Power is shared by all. SolFed resists transactional relationships and instead revolves around co-operation, as an injury to one is an injury to all.
If you would like to get involved, or even if you’re just looking for advice about an issue at work, you can contact us at:
Email: [email protected]
No concern is too small.