Hotel and Catering Workers Unite!



Reading these two pamphlets reminds me of a poem by Bertholt Brecht, Questions from a Worker who Reads. In it he points out that real history is made by the people at the bottom of society; in this case it is the catering and hotel workers who feature in this history of the   TGWU 1/1647 International Catering Workers Branch 1972-2002 called “This Is Our Story” and Barbara Pokryszka’s Tale of Two Cities.
Both publications are set in London and the story of this TGWU branch reflects the history of the city; a place where many migrant workers arrive, hoping to find decent work, pay and conditions. They don’t – and that is one of the reasons why trade unions exist and why they are still necessary because of the exploitation of some of the most vulnerable people in this society.

“This is Our Story” is about how a group of migrant workers in 1972, Portuguese to begin with, who went to the TGWU to get union support because of the exploitation they were facing at work. Like many other migrant workers, they had been politicised by events in their own country; the Portuguese had fled the dictatorship which was then ruling the country.
Over the years the International Catering Workers Branch 1/1647 has supported many diverse ethnic groups; from Portuguese to Turkish, Irish, Malaysian and Ethiopian. It is inspiring to read their stories in their words. It’s inspiring to read the way in which the TGWU got them justice; not just in terms of decent pay but in ensuring that they were not bullied but treated with respect at work.
Again and again these stories impressed me because they show the real power of workers and trade unions. And how this union branch offered hope to other vulnerable workers. In the 1980s they recognised that young people from northern areas of the UK with high unemployment were taking the jobs usually done by overseas migrant workers so the union stepped in stop them being exploited.
Last year a new publication by a hotel worker, Barbara Pokryszka’s Tale of Two Cities, was published by Unite. In it she brings the situation of hotel workers up to date but this time in the format of a graphic novel. Barbara spent four years working for the Hilton Hotel in London and became a shop steward to demand better pay and conditions. In the novel she explains why the big hotels want migrant workers- because they think they are easy to exploit. But she also shows how trade unions can organise workers to obtain not just a living wage but also enforce laws such as Health and Safety at work.

It has never been easy to organise workers in the hotel and catering trade and much of this history has never been recorded. That is why these publications are important. Knowing your own history can give workers confidence in demanding decent pay and conditions and of giving hope to migrant workers in particular who are often targeted by employers because they think that they can exploit them. Using the format of the graphic novel is also a good way of recruiting migrant workers whose first language is not English.
Trade unions are not good at promoting their own history and the copy I have of “This is Our Story” is a series of photocopied pages which have been stapled together. I suggest that Unite should republish it in the modern day format of a Tale of Two Cities and use it as a promotional tool to recruit and organise workers.
Contact Hotel Workers Branch at Unite see

About lipstick socialist

I am an activist and writer. My interests include women, class, culture and history. From an Irish in Britain background I am a republican and socialist. All my life I have been involved in community and trade union politics and I believe it is only through grass roots politics that we will get a better society. This is reflected in my writing, in my book Northern ReSisters Conversations with Radical Women and my involvement in the Mary Quaile Club. .If you want to contact me please use my gmail which is lipsticksocialist636
This entry was posted in book review, education, human rights, labour history, political women, Socialism, trade unions, Uncategorized, working class history and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Hotel and Catering Workers Unite!

  1. afoniya says:

    Many thanks for this post. My father was a member of the TGWU Catering branch (though in Brighton rather than in London).He and a Moroccan comrade were the only two unionised workers in their restaurant (I’m not sure how many unionised workers there were in the catering sector in Brighton at that time). This was in the late 1980s as far as I can recall. There is a good online site which do republish these booklets and all histories of worker struggles Maybe worth contacting them. I’d be very interesting to read the pamphlet as well as the graphic novel (is the latter still in print?)
    Again many thanks for posting this, Giuliano Vivaldi.

  2. sandy rose says:

    Have you put that to Unite? May be Michael and I could as we are both in Unite s x

    On 28 January 2016 at 09:18, lipstick socialist wrote:

    > lipstick socialist posted: ” Reading these two pamphlets reminds me of > a poem by Bertholt Brecht, Questions from a Worker who Reads. In it he > points out that real history is made by the people at the bottom of > society; in this case it is the catering and hotel workers” >

  3. Hi Afoniya,

    I’m the full time officer for Hospitality in London. But back in the 80’s I when your dad was a member I was working as a chef and was the secretary of the International Catering Workers Branch. In the late 80’s there was a huge TGWU strike in Wheelers Fish Restaurant in Brighton, involving migrant workers who were mainly Chinese. I remember joining picket lines outside the restaurant in Brighton and trying to agitate for the staff at Wheelers Branches in London to get involved.
    The branch is still very much alive today. A link for their we’d site is posted below.

    • afoniya says:

      Hello, fascinating would love to hear more about this. My dad worked at Wheelers, although he must have left the restaurant before the strike took place. As far as I know he was one of only two of the waiting staff at Wheelers who became unionised (at least at the time he was there- he definitely worked there up until at least 1984/5 and possibly until 1987). Most of the Chinese workers, it seems, worked in the kitchen- he told me this evening that he still sees one or two of them around and remembers a few of their names. But he couldn’t tell me anything about the strike. If you have any links about this strike would be great to hear about this.

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