Despite the lockdown, we’ve had a busy month in the Solidarity Network.
We began the month by restarting leafleting, and continuing with postering, around the Willow Lane industrial estate and specifically Hovis. We continued to hear reports from agency workers about being paid late and incorrectly. Watch out for our local newsletter before the end of the month for more on this. We also postered the tram station and bus stops with posters in English, Romanian and Tamil sharing what workers are entitled to under the (limited) coronavirus provisions by the government. We’ve had some calls since then from workers who saw the posters.
However, our outreach last month was mainly focused on supporting a group of around 50 workers involved in a dispute with a Pizza Hut franchisee over unpaid wages and mass lay offs. The news reached us through a Facebook post that one of the workers had shared in a group for Croydon workers affected by COVID-19 related issues, where she claimed that they had not been paid for two months. We reached out to the workers who informed us that the owner of the franchise, named Simon Byrne (A-Team Ph Ltd.), had not paid their wages for several weeks and had shut down his six stores without notice. The franchise owner then went on to ignore all the workers’ efforts to negotiate a potential furlough and mockingly offered to pay workers with “olives and napkins” instead of cash. Some of the workers were willing to take action with our support.
We spoke to them about their different options – the legal route, the direct route and indirect methods like press and social media pressure. Intutively, the workers preffered the direct method because it offered the fastest and simplest way of resolving the matter. They had already begun going to the owner’s main store/residence and kicking up enough noise to force him out to speak with them. We accompanied them there and came up with an initial plan.
We started by sharing their story on social media and through our contacts. This included individuals, and organisations (IWW, UVW, IWGB, UNITE Community) hoping to pressure both Pizza Hut and the franchise owner. This strategy proved to be quite effective as the company decided to investigate the matter after a couple of days. However, Pizza Hut failed to resolve this, so it was necessary to escelate things. In discussion with the workers we organised an “exercise” action at the Pizza Hut store in Penge. We were not sure what the response from the authorities would be, given the lockdown restrictions but after considering the options, the workers were strongly in favour and we took our cue from them. To answer any criticisms of this approach, the workers put together the ‘FAQs’ posted below.
On the 22nd of April, workers and other supporters gathered outside the Pizza Hut in Penge, following the guidelines on social distancing and personal protection. The response from the residents in the area was very positive. Many of the passers-by showed an interest in our leaflets and posters and were genuinely outraged when told the reasons behind the action. The police showed up and told us to keep two metres apart from each other. Surprisingly, they left the scene after a few minutes.
Considering this a success, we organised a double protest in two different locations for the next Saturday, 25th April. Before that, Pizza Hut made a payment to most of the workers but failed to pay the total amount they were owed. Obviously, the workers were not happy with this outcome, so they decided to go ahead with the dual protest on Saturday in Lewisham (SE4) and Earlsfield (SW18). This time again numerous supporters joined us, from the Bakers Union, AWL and other organisations and individuals who found out about the protest on social media. This included individuals from Lewisham and Croydon Mutual Aid groups. Both protests were relatively successful in terms of feedback and turn out. But while there were no major incidents in Lewisham, we had a police visit at Earlsfield and were threatened with a penalty warning notice if we didn’t leave the area. There was one more protest by our Angry Workers comrades in West London on the Monday after.
At the time of writing, Pizza Hut has now paid the majority of workers at least some of what they are owed, without any legal responsbility to do so. This is testament to the actions of the workers. We continue to pursue the matter via ACAS and directly with Pizza Hut. Updates will follow, along with a more detailed reflection. We’re pleased that we had a first proper opportunity to demonstrate our desire to take responsibility for working class disputes happening in our area. The idea behind local rooted groups is that when it kicks off on your turf, you throw your support behind the workers, lockdown or no lockdown. This is the same whether its non-union fast food workers, tenants disputes, clean air campaigns or national disputes with local offshoots – like the CWU – Royal Mail beef currently bubbling up. Keep an eye on this.