Reflections on the relation between solidarity networks, workplace groups and class organisation, based on our modest experiences in west London. We see this effort in opposition to the current electoral surge and try to explain why.
Dear sisters and brothers,
Some comrades from Frankfurt got in touch recently, wanting to set up a solidarity network. They approached us with some concrete questions.  We want to use the opportunity to reflect more generally on our limited experiences with our solidarity network initiative so far and about the political direction we want to take steps towards. We do this against the current background of post-election ‘Corbyn-mania’ and a surge in political activities focused on the Labour Party. The first part of this text briefly explains our opposition to the focus on electoral activities, whether that be through the Labour machinery or in the more post-modern form of ‘municipalism’  – despite the fact that locally in our area, the election circus had less of an impact, given that most workers here are not allowed to vote anyway. And as an alternative to this electoral turn, the second part focuses on our political proposals towards a locally rooted class organisation. We then go on to talk in more detail about our concrete experiences with the solidarity network in west London.
*** The Labour of wishful thinking
* We understand that ‘hope’ is needed amongst a divided and beaten working class and that Labour’s rhetoric of social unity and equality is welcomed.
* We would criticise our comrades of the radical left if they merely proliferate this ‘message of hope’ and material promises (end of austerity), without questioning the structural constraints which will make it difficult for a Labour government to deliver on their promises. Syriza in Greece has shown how a hopeful high can quickly turn into an even deeper depression once ‘our government’ has to turn against us.
* For us it is less about warning the working class not to vote on principle or focusing on Corbyn’s problematic power struggle within the Labour apparatus, but about pointing out the general dynamic between a) a national social democratic government, b) the global system of trade, monetary exchange and political power and c) the struggle of workers to improve their lives. In other words, all of the historical lessons have shown us that the outcomes of channelling working class energies into parliamentarism within a nation state that fits into an overall system of capital flows, has always ended up curtailing a longer-term working class power.
* The Labour party proposals in general are not radical as such, e.g. their promise to increase the minimum wage to £10 per hour by 2020 (!) under current inflation rates would more likely lead to a dampening of wage struggles amongst the lower paid working class, rather than instigating them. The minimum wage regulation introduced by Labour under Blair in 1998 had this effect in the long run.
* An increase in taxation to mobilise the financial means to deliver on their promises will increase capital flight and devaluation of the pound – most capital assets which bolster the UK economy are less material than in the 1970s, therefore it would be difficult to counter the flight with requisition (‘nationalisation’), a step which Labour does not really consider on a larger scale anyway.
* While any social democratic program on a national level is more unlikely than ever, the Labour program focuses workers’ attention increasingly on the national terrain: struggle for the NHS, nationalisation of the railways etc.; (in this sense the leadership’s leaning towards Brexit is consequential and at odds with most liberal Corbynistas); while officially Labour maintains a liberal approach towards migrants, those Labour strategists who are less under public scrutiny as politicians, such as Paul Mason, are more honest: if to carry out a social democratic program on a national scale means to have tightened control over the movement of capital, by the nature of capital-labour relation, this also means to tighten the control over the movement of labour; it would also mean re-arming the national military apparatus in order to bolster the national currency that otherwise wouldn’t have the international standing the pound still has. 
* A social democratic government needs a workers/social movement on the ground in order to impose more control over corporate management, e.g. through taxation. At the same time it hampers the self-activity of workers necessary to do this – e.g. through relying on the main union apparatus as transmission belts between workers and government.
* In more concrete terms we can see that groups like Momentum or local Labour Party organisations have done and do very little to materially strengthen the organisation of day-to-day proletarian struggles on the ground, but rather channel people’s activities towards the electoral sphere, siphoning off energy and turning attention away from concrete proletarian problems. Many ‘independent’ left-wing initiatives – from Novara media to most of the Trot organisations – became election advertisement agencies.
* While for the new Labour activists – many of them from a more educated if not middle-class background – there will be advisory posts and political careers, we have to see their future role with critical suspicion.
* If a Labour government would actually try to increase taxation and redistribute assets, the most likely outcome is a devaluation of the pound and an increase in inflation due to a trade deficit, which cannot be counteracted easily (see composition of agriculture, energy sector, general manufactured goods etc.)
* The new Labour left – trained in political activism and speech and aided by their influence within union leadership – will be the best vehicle to tell workers to ‘give our Labour government some time’, to explain that ‘international corporations have allied against us’ and that despite inflation workers should keep calm and carry on; wage struggles will be declared to be ‘excessive’ or ‘divisive’ or ‘of narrow-minded economic consciousness’. More principled comrades who told workers to support Labour, but who would support workers fighting against a Labour government risk losing their credibility and influence.
* Instead of creating illusions that under conditions of a global crisis ‘money can be found’ for the welfare state we should point out the absurdity of the capitalist crisis: there is poverty despite excess capacities and goods (for which ‘no money can be found’ if they don’t promise profits for companies or the state). We have to be Marxists again, analysing structures rather than engaging in wishful thinking.
* We should focus our activities to a) build material counter-power against bosses and capitalist institutions that makes a difference in the daily lives of working class people and b) prepare themselves and ourselves for the task of actually taking over the means of (re-)production.  For this we need to be rooted and coordinated internationally. We can clearly see that in the face of these big questions our actual practice seems ridiculously modest, but we want to share our experiences honestly and invite others to organise themselves with us. 
People might accuse us of crude ‘syndicalism’, unable to react to the changing social atmosphere and political scenario. However, we do agree that we have to develop particular strategies in cases of sudden shifts. The question is what kind of strategies. In the current post-election and post-Grenfell disaster moment we won’t join the opportunists who shout ‘Tories out’, but we want to help generalise proletarian discontent by unearthing how ‘cutting corners’ in times of capitalist crisis and austerity is a systemic and overall working class experience: from under-staffed emergency departments in hospitals, to handling of cleaning chemicals in food-processing factories without proper instructions, to closed offices for housing benefit claims in our local area. We can discover Grenfell in small everywhere and – in contrast to the ‘Tories out’ knee-jerk reactions – can also discover how working class collective steps could counteract it on a daily level. It is up to us to make these collective steps known – steps which are usually droned out by the general noise of big politics and wannabe politicians.
*** Taking a class line: Proletarian self-defence, workers’ power and political organisation
We want to start by situating the solidarity network within the bigger picture of the formation process of a working class organisation. We can identify three distinct layers of this process which we hope to be able to fuse as much as possible:
* The solidarity network is a basic open-call for mutual aid amongst individual proletarians around day-to-day issues of proletarian existence: from trouble with the state machinery (job centres, migration office) to concrete problems with landlords and bosses to gendered or racialised violence amongst proletarians. It is based on basic principles of a class line: we don’t need experts or bourgeois ‘community’ middle-men; direct action and solidarity is our main resource; and different aspects of life have a clear class character (from the education to medical system). While a bigger group of proletarians have power, e.g. when they protest or blockade, the organic collective power of proletarians lies within the work process. The biggest challenge for solidarity networks is to create a synergetic effect between solidarity networks and workplace based groups. This is not just a question of power in the sense that under current conditions we often need an external support army to encourage workers to break through the blanket of fear within factories, warehouses and other workplaces and take collective action even in a minority position. It is also a question of politicisation: the solidarity network in relation to the workplace can help bringing to the fore all aspects of proletarian experience which trade unions tend to ignore, e.g. the conditions in the domestic sphere and the repression from state agencies.
* We don’t want to make a clear distinction between workplace groups as ‘economic’ and solidarity networks as ‘social’. The fact is, workplaces are the places where most sociality happens. The daily proximity at work creates the atmosphere amongst proletarians to talk about other aspects of working class oppression – more so than, e.g. the spacial proximity between neighbours or claimants waiting in a job centre queue. And the increasing pressure on proletarians ‘outside of work’ clearly impacts on how the power balance between workers and bosses shift, e.g. intensifying migration raids or cuts of unemployment benefits will increase the fear of losing one’s job. Migrant workers’ mobilisations in the US have shown that the most powerful way to react against the migration regime is to hit the regimes’ underbelly through strike. In the long run, only struggles within the production process can reveal the power of the working class to not just ‘blockade the system’, but to transform the way we create this world and our relationships.
* What is the role of a political class organisation in this process? For us the main role of a political collective is to document experiences and reflect on this process between solidarity network and workplace groups through the medium of a local working class newspaper – from a revolutionary point of view. This means to locate concrete local experiences within historical changes or within struggles that go on globally. It is one of the means of organisational expansion when distributed regularly at workplaces, job centres and other proletarian areas. The work on the newspaper is a process of self-education for militant workers who got attracted to the solidarity network or workplace groups: it is one thing to see that most aspects of our lives are shaped by (class) oppression, a different thing to ask why and how to change this. The newspaper is a local focal point for workers to create a wider horizon, e.g. by meeting and discussing with workers’ militants from other regions and to coordinate future practical steps.
This is roughly how we see the relationship between solidarity network and workplace groups, between proletarian experience and workers’ power. In practical terms we are still miles away from creating this necessary synergetic effect we spoke about. In the following we want to reflect on our concrete experiences and illustrate some of the difficulties.
*** Experiences of the west London solidarity network
The area where we work and live (Greenford, Southall, Park Royal) is fairly homogeneous class-wise, most people are working class, nearly half of the people are first generation migrants, mainly from eastern Europe and South Asia. Many work in so-called unskilled jobs in bigger workplaces (around Heathrow airport, in warehouses and factories). Most people live not too far away from where they work, basically in the western suburban fringe. English not being their first language often limits job choice and their status limits access to benefits. The usual NGO or state funded advice or community centres have suffered from years of austerity and cannot cope or are not accessible for the masses of recent migrants. Apart from a few socialist comrades, there is no (radical) left to speak of in this area and it is difficult to mobilise the London radical left to support workers in this far-out and culturally alien suburb. 
Taking all this into account you can see that individually speaking, workers here are in a structurally weak and vulnerable position, whereas collectively they have a potentially powerful position with Europe’s biggest airport and Europe’s biggest city depending on their supply-work. We don’t think that our solidarity network would receive a similar response in more central parts of London, which is more middle-class infused and less dominated by migrant labour.
We have to take this into account when talking about the concrete conditions for setting up solidarity networks, workplace groups and local workers’ papers. Many people who approach the solidarity network individually do so from a weak position: often not knowing the legal situation or not being confident when it comes to dealing with the authorities. When it comes to the first step we don’t expect to overcome a certain ‘service’ position – we are there to inform and help up to a certain degree. We give legal advice when necessary, but point out the limits and/or financial costs of legal procedures.
Our initial solidarity network cases emerged organically through contacts at work: colleagues had been fucked over by visa agents or been ripped off by their temp agency. This partly answers the question by comrades in Frankfurt regarding the relationship between our ‘activism’ and our lives. We work in low-paid jobs, live in privately rented housing and the majority of us are migrants who have frequent problems with the authorities. We don’t think that not being a low paid worker yourself would necessarily lead to a skewed relationship though, if the initiative is done from a class-conscious perspective.
Initially we focused on organising activities at work and the newspaper. We invited people to come to a monthly film-screening to a local community centre – a bit hidden away – where we would also talk about problems at work or with landlords and job centres. We put up around 80 posters in the local area each month, but apart from friends only one new person came to the screening on average. Only in two cases people came with concrete problems, either because they had been made homeless or they were looking for work.
We decided to change the format of the meetings in Spring 2017. We designed two posters, one basically summarising a working class revolutionary position in a few sentences, the other one inviting people more directly to come with their problems, though making clear that it is about working class mutual aid, rather than professional middle-man culture.  We put these posters up in working class residential areas, bus stops and industrial zones. We have a solidarity network phone number. Instead of meeting in the community centre once a month we now meet weekly in more accessible places: an Indian tea cafe in Southall, a McDonald’s in a retail park in Greenford and the 24-hour Asda cafe supermarket in Park Royal.
The response was a bit overwhelming. We received phone calls on a daily level. This might be partly an indicator that times are getting harder and that all authorities and exploiters – from language schools to landlords to bosses – think that migrant workers are free loot that can be taken advantage of at will, in particular after the anti-migrant propaganda fest around Brexit. The other reason might actually be due to the change of method and meeting places. Most people phone up before they come to the meeting, though some just turn up. Nearly all people are migrant workers, both men and women. Apart from one person all got in touch for individual reasons. Only one Spanish speaking cleaner got in touch for herself and her colleagues, but unfortunately she didn’t keep in touch.
Here are some of the issues for why they get in touch:
* threat of eviction (family from Poland)
* unfair dismissal (catering worker from Senegal)
* bullying from management due to sickness (older, white-British female worker)
* problem with housing benefit (worker from India)
* problem with job description, underpayment (worker from East Asia)
* not being given certificate from language school (students from Romania)
* not being paid for teaching work (teacher from Romania)
* problem with tax return (self-employed builder from Poland)
The drop-ins can be lively, here is one report from a meeting in the Indian tea cafe:
“N. who runs a local day centre ‘neighbourly care’ came with three women, one of them had problems with her employer, a care provider. She has been employed for over 11 years, she works in the kitchen. She had a heart operation this year, then got pneumonia and the doctors said that at some point she must have had TB – so she has been off sick for some time. The employer ‘invited’ themselves to a conversation with her, suggesting they come to her home. We agreed that it would be better to meet them in the day centre, which is a more neutral space. We also said that she should mention that her grievance she put in two, three years ago for bullying from supervisors was not acted upon by the company, which was not beneficial to her health. The employer said that she could bring a colleague or a union rep – it is not an official disciplinary, but that might be a good idea nevertheless. One of us should go…. the family from Poland came, too, with their baby (the cafe is not the best kid-friendly space, but all we got at the moment). Their housing benefit got cancelled in November 2016, for ‘over payment’ – they had to appeal. The appeal dragged on till now, during that time they didn’t receive housing benefit and got into rent arrears. and The landlord applied for an eviction order (which luckily failed due to formal reasons). He also threatened them with ‘deportation’…”
We make sure that we tell people that we are workers in this area ourselves and that we do this voluntarily in order to create a support network. We talk about how we see the local situation, the mixture of anti-migrant propaganda and low wages. We tend to pass on our local newspaper, which puts forward a revolutionary position. After we had three cases where people didn’t want to follow up with action after an initial letter to management or the landlord had no immediate result we decided to write a short flyer to give to people, explaining clearly that we don’t expect that a single letter will deliver the goods.
At the same time we don’t feel like ‘pushing people into action’, given their already precarious situation. There can be a backlash e.g. a landlord who threatened tenants from Poland with evictions and ‘deportation’, letting them live in unsafe conditions (accusing them of having stolen the fire alarms and messed up the electrics), wrote to us after we contacted him: “The reason why I am responding to your letters is that I have a special relationship with the above tenants as they were suffering in bed and breakfast with a small child, however as they have got you involved this has now changed everything and eviction will take place.” In the letter he also mentions his good relations with the local Labour council. In this sense we feel a certain responsibility and we have to be able to back up our counter-actions.
All cases where we took some action were successful in the sense that our opponents paid up – see appendix for examples of cases and actions. We try to keep in touch with people after their ‘case’ is solved, we plan to have some social events to invite people to. We ask people to tell friends and family with similar problems to get in touch. Since we started the new meeting places and posters we had only one action to which we could have called other people who we had supported previously – with limited success. In this sense we cannot say yet to what extent people are willing to keep in touch and support others, after they have received support themselves.
At this point we are still within the usual framework of solidarity network activity and experience the common problems attached to it – namely the collectivisation of support work and generalisation of disputes. Our workplace activities currently are still on an ‘internal’ and small-scale level, which means that we have had little opportunity yet to see if both embryonic organisations could touch and infuse each other. We are currently based in two significant warehouses and factories in the area, where things are brewing, but not spilling over yet. We invite individual workmates to come to the solidarity network meetings and in the near future we hope to bring solidarity network fellow proletarians to actions outside the workplace. Apart from the general pressure exercised by bosses and labour markets, workers in the workplace also have to deal with Labour Party backing unions, such as the GMB and USDAW. USDAW has agreed to various weekend work and overtime bonus cuts in recent years and the GMB has managed to keep wages for permanent (female, migrant) factory workers at minimum wage levels, even after 10, 15, 20 years of seniority. For the second half of 2017 we plan an organising campaign together with London IWW amongst workers in warehouses and factories without an existing union structure – this might give the relationship between solidarity network and workplace organising a new quality.
Another possible way to further collectivise the solidarity network effort is through our engagement with ‘local issues’, which already have a more social character. Currently these issues involve resistance against the closure and re-development of our local leisure centre, the closure of a local job centre and the expansion of Heathrow airport. These issues are usually called ‘community issues’, which is problematic, given that the ‘community’ tends to be a stratified and multi-class entity, riddled with internal contradictions.
Even when it comes to these modest local disputes it is important to us to stick to a clear class line. In concrete terms this means:
* In the case of the Heathrow expansion we oppose the trade union view that embraces the environmentally disastrous expansion because it promises the ‘creation of jobs’. Unlike most of the middle-class environmentalist activists, we focus our activity on the tens of thousands of low-paid workers at Heathrow. Our point is that we have to oppose the blackmail by capital: ‘jobs vs. health/life’. Capitalist development means death and destruction, but in order to challenge this we have to expand workers’ power and control: generalisation from from day-to-day struggles at work – we point out the international character of the aero-industry and links that workers in the sector could try to create.
* In the case of the job centre closure we support the DWP workers in their struggle against job cuts or transferals, but we point out the hierarchical nature between DWP and unemployed proletarians and that in order to get wider class support trust has to be build between claimants and job centre workers, who are often seen as the agents of the sanction and benefit cuts machinery. We suggested common assemblies and activities.
* In the case of the re-development of the leisure centre we are confronted with different interests and modes of struggle amongst people who oppose the ‘regeneration’. Some oppose the selling of public land and the building of private housing for political reasons, some local proletarians are mainly concerned about the services that they use, some local people worry about traffic and the ‘unisightly’ view of the high-rise tower blocks (the ‘NIMBY’-faction). Accordingly, suggestions of ‘what to do’ range from ‘collective walks on the council’, to petitions to ‘work with the opposition party (Tories), to getting leisure centre workers informed and on board. Locally we have to deal with a Labour council with a long record of deals with developers and selling off of public assets.
These small examples are just supposed to show that terms like ‘municipality’ or ‘community’ are not some neutral political terms, but through their obfuscation of local class divisions they propose a specific political strategy and in the long run lead to fishy waters of collaboration with institutions and cross-class alliances.
We write articles about each successful (or potentially unsuccessful) action of the solidarity network and activities such as the ones mentioned above for our local newspaper. We distribute 2,000 copies in front of the same workplaces and job centres, hoping to create a small picture of what a possible convergence and constitution of a working class organisation could look like. We wrote an article for the newspaper describing how small steps at work and outside work can come together. 
To conclude, our medium-term objectives are:
* to expand the solidarity network to 70-80 workers who are willing to support workers who are ready to take action at their workplace by threatening to blockade the company, to inform the masses of workers in the immediate surrounding, or to try to expand the conflict by other means;
* to have a network of a dozen or so workplace groups who try out various forms of hidden and open struggle and debate the results amongst each other;
* to be able to enforce demands towards not only local employers, but also the local authorities by the force of numbers of the solidarity network and the economic pressure of cores of organised workers. This is a stepping stone towards a local counter-power that can actually shape how ‘local resources’ are used;
* to increase the number of workers active in writing and distributing the newspaper to twenty, workers who are willing to organise a process of self-education and who actively participate in building a network of similar collectives in the UK and beyond. We try to get rooted in these square miles around us, but hope to become the cell of something bigger.
We realise we this scenario is still a long way off. We accept that this process won’t be gradual and is influenced by ‘objective conditions’. For example, any change in the state’s migration policy might force workers to go beyond their state of ‘fear and acceptance’ and to actively defend themselves and others. A sudden increase in inflation post-Brexit combined with the inability of the government to compensate through minimum wage increases might push people over the edge. The solidarity network, workplace groups and newspaper distributions are our ears on the ground.
Examples of West London Solidarity Network cases
* Intervention Southall job centre closure
* Report on leisure centre re-development
* Intervention Heathrow expansion
* Action for catering worker from Senegal
In Spring 2017 a catering worker from Senegal contacted us after he had been sacked by his company, where he had worked for over a year. He was sacked after his brother died and he had asked for one month unpaid holiday to cope with the bereavement. The company refused. The worker felt unwell and after consultation with his GP provided a sick note. The company reacted with dismissal, which aggravated the workers health condition. He lives in bed and breakfast accommodation with his wife and daughter, who suffers from sickle-cell disease and needs a lot of care. The company didn’t provide sick pay, so he only received the statutory sick pay of £17 a day. The worker appealed against the dismissal and we accompanied him to the appeal hearing. Despite the fact that he was able to provide sick notes for the entire period of absence, the company upheld their decision to sack him. At this point the worker didn’t want his job back, given the stress that they had caused him. He demanded full payment for the entire period of sickness up to the appeal hearing date – which legally speaking, the company had no obligation to pay. We organised an action at his former workplace, a swanky start-up office space in west London, informing the office workers about the practice of the catering company. Cops were called, catering management arrived and promised to pay, if we end the ruckus. They have agreed to pay the money.
* Support for language students and teacher from Romania
In Spring 2017 a student-worker from Romania contacted us. He and his co-student didn’t receive their certificate after finishing a language and adult education course. In addition the company owed him several week’s wages for teaching entry-level English classes. The students had taken government loans to attend the course and had started paying back the money. There have been various ’scandals’ of such private education companies which fuck over migrant students, cashing in on their loans. The good thing was that he kept in touch with many former students, mainly through Facebook sites of Romanian migrants. We and IWW comrades met with four former students and drafted a letter to management. Management seemed happy to sort out the issue of the certificates, but said a sub-agent, himself from Romania, was responsible for the English classes (using rooms in their college). We would have insisted that if the work was performed in their building and with their students, that they had the obligation to pay. Unfortunately the teaching worker from Romania chose not to pursue the issue, partly because he was working long hours, which would make taking part in activities to re-cover the wage difficult. The school is located in central London, which made it difficult for us, as well.
* Support for worker’s family from Poland
In Spring 2017 a family from Poland contacted us after their landlord had threatened them with eviction. They had got into rent arrears after the housing benefit office had stopped their benefit payments due to ‘over-payment’ – which later turned out to be a minor sum. They had appealed against the housing benefit office decision, but this process took several months where they were left without payment – she works as a retail worker, he is recovering from serious illness, they have a baby. The landlord has various properties in the area, most of them in bad shape, e.g. fire alarm equipment is missing and electrical wiring is unsafe. He also threatened neighbours of the family with eviction, they are also from Poland. They decided to go down the legal route and ask for postponement of the eviction through a lawyer. We suggested that all neighbours should get together and make the case more public, which seemed difficult to achieve after some of them decided to hand things over to the lawyer. The landlord took advantage of the general post-Brexit atmosphere and told them that if they don’t move out ‘they will be deported’. We suggested writing a letter to the council to ask for an inspection of the property, which would at least delay the eviction. The case is still up in the air.
* Support for woman catering worker from England
in Spring 2017 a worker in her 60s approached us after management invited themselves to have a conversation with her ‘about her health’. In the last year she had a heart operation, followed by pneumonia where doctors discovered a previous TB condition and she broke her foot. She works in a school kitchen and her health condition didn’t allow her to perform the work requested of her. She received £17 a day SSP. The company, an outsourced catering enterprise, asked her to request an health assessment from her GP and to attend an examination by an ‘independent doctor’. All this increased her feeling of stress and she thought this meeting was basically a dismissal meeting. A friend from a nearby daycare centre went with her to the management meeting and later on we went through the forms together and asked other comrades about their experiences with independent medical assessments. Management realised that she was being backed up by friends and eased the pressure, saying they would now accommodate her request for lightened duties. She attends the solidarity meetings regularly now.
* Article: Action for road sweeper to get outstanding wages
“One of our friends worked for Hays, the temp agency supplying workers for Amey – the company subcontracted to do street cleansing and refuse collection for Ealing council. He worked from September 2015 to March 2016 as a road sweeper. After he left, Hays refused to pay him for three days, saying that he wasn’t in the supervisor’s register…
Hays/Amey doesn’t issue the temp workers with written proof of worked hours. So there was no way to ‘prove’ he had been there other than trying to remember what he was doing on those particular days when he’d been marked down as absent. But because you are sent from place to place and team to team, and you only find out you haven’t been paid a week later when you get your payslip, it is pretty tough to remember where you’d been on any one day. But our friend did remember that on one of the alleged absent days, he had been to a union meeting – where one of the supervisors was present. But Hays/Amey would still not accept this as proof. For some of the days he tried to name the areas where he thought he had worked and the colleagues who he had worked with – but still no pay…
So he tried his luck writing to ACAS – a government institution that tries to solve issues before you can go to labour tribunal. They asked him: “What kind of proof do you have?” – He said: “They don’t give no proof for temps, no clock-in card, no signed time-sheets.” ACAS said: “No proof, bad luck”. Going to the labour tribunal costs over £300 – so the law ain’t gonna help!
So the friend got in touch with the WorkersWildWest solidarity network. We did an action at the depot, distributing leaflets about the situation to the workmates. We sent a picture of the action and the leaflet to Hays upper management, cc-ing in Amey upper management and Ealing council. The next day the Hays manager responsible for the Amey contract phoned and made promises: If Amey doesn’t accept the hours Hays will pay. It needed some more threats of future actions and making things public, but finally Hays coughed up the dosh…”
* Article: Action for worker from India against visa agent
“A work friend of mine, a woman from Punjab who hopes to renew her visa to stay in the UK, gave £10,000 to a ‘visa advisor’, Mr Patel, in Southall. His company, Aaryas Careers Ltd. offered to give her IT training at his (apparently Home Office registered) company that would sponsor her visa application. She only got 2 weeks training, and then was given fake documents to apply for a visa.
This is a common story. These kind of ‘legal advisors’ take advantage of people who are desperate to stay in the UK and have an insecure immigration status. They know that the people are too scared to report fraud to the police because they might then be deported.
But my friend did decide to fight back after Mr Patel refused to refund her money. First he agreed to give her a cheque for £10,000. But then straightaway he called the bank and said his chequebook had been stolen so when she went to cash the cheque, the bank thought she was committing fraud and froze her bank account!
So a few of us went with her to the office to put some pressure on him. He was not in the office (although his car was outside) and he left his two young receptionists there to deal with his disgruntled customers: us, as well as two other groups of people who were also asking for their money back. One group came all the way from Southampton, and had paid this guy £25,000! The other man who was also there to get back his money started filming the receptionists and taking photos of the ‘diplomas’ and accreditation certificates on the wall. The receptionists got nervous and called the police (who never came). Mr Patel just left them there to cop the flak…
We went back the next day. Even though he tried to intimidate us by asking us for our IDs and addresses (which we refused to give him) and shouting, he was definitely nervous and worried. He wanted to talk to my friend and her husband alone and he agreed to pay another instalment of £2000, which he did. We have given him a deadline to pay back the rest, if he doesn’t do it, we will go back, hopefully with more people. We will continue to escalate our actions until we get back all the money…
The visa-agent was able to rip people off because he himself was well established and could appeal to poorer and more desperate people that are ‘from the same community, speaking the same language’. Therefore we question this idea of ‘community’. The ‘community’ covers up the differences we know exist between us, most importantly between those who are able to make money and those who get ripped off. To fight the exploiters we have to build communities based on an international working class solidarity, not the colour of our skin, religion, caste and cultural practices.”
* Article: Action against temp agency for holiday pay
In August 2014, a group of four of us who were employed through the ASAP agency in Greenford and used to work at the same warehouse, took action together to get the holiday pay we were entitled to. We were able to contact each other and find out we were all in a similar situation because we had exchanged phone numbers when we had left the warehouse. It was a good job we did!
We were owed money ranging from £70-150. Our individual attempts to get our money ended up going nowhere. We tried calling the office, we went individually and spoke to them face-to-face – we even phoned their head office. They never called us back. The agency always came up with different excuses as to why they were not paying: “We’ve sent your P45 now, it’s too late to get your holiday pay”, or “You needed to have given us one weeks notice before you left the agency so we don’t have to pay your holiday pay” etc. Every time a different person and a different story. It became clear to us that they were systematically avoiding paying people their outstanding wages once they had left.
Our individual efforts had failed, so we decided to go together and not leave until they had paid us! We didn’t need a solicitor or help from a union: we just went to the office together; three of us agency workers plus five of our friends. We had made a leaflet to give to people who were registering with the agency and gave them out in the reception area. It told them what had happened to us and, if the same thing happened to them, they should call us. We had also made some banners to show that we were serious and things could escalate if we didn’t get what we wanted. We made quite an strong impact when we all filed into the small office together…
And guess what? We got our money within 15 minutes! This was surprisingly easy for the manager to do considering that they hadn’t managed to sort this out in the last 6 weeks! One of the workers owed money who couldn’t come to the action spoke to them on the phone later that day. The agency had said to us that he had already been paid. But he hadn’t. So when he spoke to them on the phone, he said that if they did not pay, we would all come back again together. And they instantly paid him! Actually, £40 more than he was expecting! So he left with £190. He had given up hope of getting this money back. But when we joined forces we won!
Do you offer legal aid and if so, how?
How do you avoid that the workers who show up remain passive, like consumers or members of big unions? Do people come with an attitude like “I’ve got this and that problem and I’d like you to fix it”?
Do you manage to generate solidarity among workers from different sectors?
How did you go about setting up the network?
How does your activism relate to your own lives? Are you workers, students, unemployed, …? How do you avoid remaining limited to the usual suspects from the radical left?
How open are you about your socialist / communist positions when dealing with workers?