A lot of people say that nothing ever changes, so it’s not worth bothering. Well my experience of going out on strike at Wetherspoons shows how that’s not true.
On 4 October, I was among the workers who for the first time in the company’s history, went on strike. We were demanding a living wage of at least £10 an hour, equal wages for all ages and for the company to recognise our chosen union: The Bakers, Food and Allied Workers’ union.
Before the strike, I was unsure how much support there’d be for us. Despite the community we had built with each other there was always the concern that the managers were right - no one else would care.
The night of the walkout there were managers from headquarters in the pub trying to make us feel like we were doing something wrong. We knew they would be watching our every step. However, when midnight struck, supporters in the pub started to applaud and the strike started as workers walked out.
I’ve worked for Wetherspoons for a year and a half, moving to work in the Post and Telegraph in Brighton, where things were even worse than elsewhere. As a bar associate, low pay means making ends meet is really difficult. Balancing rent and bills is hard, especially on those all too frequent occasions where you don’t get the hours you need.
We’re overworked, and used to have very little say in how our pub was run. It was time to take action to demand change. After a midnight walk out where crowds of people had come to show support, there was little time for sleep before we were on our way to London for a rally with other striking workers in Leicester Square.
There, we stood and chanted alongside those from McDonald’s and TGI Friday’s, trade unionists and supporters from all over the world. It was my first protest and the show of solidarity was overwhelming, it wiped away any doubts that the public weren’t on our side.
When we returned to Brighton we held another rally and picket with local MPs and hundreds of community supporters there with us. When the strike finished at midnight, we marched the striking workers back to the pub to finish their shifts. We were met by managers to inform us they had closed the pub early but despite this - the workers would still be paid for the hour they were rota’d to work.
We started the strike with a walkout, and ended with a victory.
Not only were the workers paid for that hour of work, but thanks to the donations we received we were able to ensure that every worker that went on strike was paid £10 an hour for the shifts they missed.
Once the strike finished, we had to focus on sticking together at work. Although managers had promised no malice, several members of staff in one pub were unfairly targeted with one having received a demotion prior to the strike. With the help of our union we built a case against this, and not only won the employee their promotion back, but saw a management reshuffle take place that ensured bullying managers were held to account.
We showed that by sticking together we could stop victimisation, and ensure it would never happen again. On top of this, the company responded to the strike by giving us our annual pay rise five months early. The Brighton pubs got a 60p pay rise.
By taking action, we’re now on a higher rate of pay; 40p more than most Wetherspoons in the country. If I had doubts about whether it was worth bothering before, the changes we’ve won show that when we stand together, we can make a difference. We’ve sorted out rota issues, ended forced night shifts and won a pay rise. £5 more in our pockets every eight-hour shift because we got organised. It’s made it a happier workplace too and our voices are being taken more seriously.
There’s still a long way to go, things we still need to change. We have shown that we’re a force to be reckoned with, but our fight isn’t over. Wetherspoons still has a culture of exploiting its overworked staff. The pay still isn’t good enough across the country, and our union still doesn’t have recognition. These problems aren’t limited to Brighton, they’re nationwide. We’re building on the strike. We won’t stop until Wetherspoons all over the country treat their workers with respect.
When we stand together, we no longer have to be afraid to ask for more, to ask for what we deserve. Wherever you work, join a union, join us, and join the fight for a better workplace.