Sunday, 5 February 2012

IWW day of action against Pizza Hut

On Saturday, the Industrial Workers of the World held a day of action against Pizza Hut. The call-out was part of an ongoing dispute over pay and conditions in Sheffield, but was met with solidarity from across Britain and the world. It also demonstrated the weight that class solidarity adds to independent workers' organisation.

Details of the dispute, as described by the Sheffield Pizza Hut Workers Union, are as follows;
In April of last year Pizza Hut workers placed a collective grievance about the following issues:

  • Bank Holiday Pay – The standard practice in the UK is for workers to be paid a rate of time and a half for working unsociable days, such as Boxing day, or New Year’s eve. However, Pizza Hut has reversed this in all cases now across all its stores, and now even if a worker was to be in on Christmas day they would still be paid the standard wage. We demand that Pizza Hut pay all workers time and a half for working Bank Holiday days.
  • Delivery Drivers Commission - Delivery staff, using their own cars, are paid a commission rate of 60p per delivery. The rate has remained static for several years. This is despite a changing delivery radius and the rising price of petrol. A driver can deliver a pizza that could be part of a 6 mile round trip, giving them a rate of 10p per mile. A worker on minimum wage is expected to pay for the cost of running a car as well as towards the cost of fuelling it while at work. Despite a review and the promise of a new rate, the rate has remained the same.

The Pizza Hut Workers Union also has concerns outside of this dispute, including delivery staffs safety gear, a decreasing pay packet that falls behind inflation and a demand for a real living wage for all Pizza Hut workers. We ask for your support in our on-going dispute.
Wobblies in Sheffield braved the snow to picket the store at the heart of the dispute, handing out leaflets to staff and the public. The leaflets handed out included a pro forma letter to send to Pizza Hut in support of workers, whilst many signed a petition and were directed to eat at other pizza establishments until the dispute is settled.

They were not alone, and similar pickets took place in Birmingham, Glasgow, Hull, LiverpoolLondon, Bristol,  and elsewhere. International solidarity came from Richmond and Germany. Such solidarity is important in demonstrating that workers in any given location do not stand alone in their struggles. At the same time, the use of direct action in the form of pickets against the company helps workers to demonstrate their strength and gain in confidence.

The service industry is one of the most exploitative and casualised in the modern economy, and the already limited approach of mainstream trade unionism has little relevance there. A direct action approach, based on organising rank-and-file workers to act for themselves, is the only adequate way to shift the balance of power against the bosses. When getting off the ground, there is also often a need for discretion and to avoid "going public" that full time union officials by the very nature of how they operate are not capable of replicating. Which is where self-organisation comes into its own.

But, of course, self-organisation doesn't simply mean leaving workers to their own devices. It means giving them the tools to operate in this way, and being willing to provide full support and solidarity when they do. This is something that a trade union movement hamstrung by anti-union laws and riven with sectionalism simply cannot match up to.

As such, those of us who support independent worker organisation will undoubtedly offer our continuing solidarity to Pizza Hut workers in their struggle. But also to any workers making the effort to organise and fight back in the service sector and elsewhere. The such workers that refuse to take the exploitation of their employers lying down and are willing to fight back without playing by their rules, the much greater chance we have of shifting the balance of power in the entire class struggle.