Socialist Alternative

Rishi Sunak’s knock-off New Deal – no real solution for workers and young people

The summer statement by Tory Chancellor Rishi Sunak has promised a new round of public spending, with up to £30bn announced to ‘Support, Create and Protect’ jobs. The statement announced some big numbers, with billions being spent on various separate schemes, but will this be enough to tackle the crisis facing workers in Britain?

Moving out of furlough

The hospitality and tourism industries have been in crisis throughout the pandemic, with almost all services shutting down from March-July. In order to prevent a mass wave of layoffs following these closures, the government was forced to put in place the furlough scheme to retain jobs during the pandemic. But in October, the scheme – currently supporting 9.4 million workers – will be wound down, reviving fears of mass layoffs. The government has responded by incentivising businesses with the offer of a £1,000 bonus for each worker they retain until January. This has been coupled with a subsidised ‘eat out to help out’ discount at restaurants, and a VAT holiday until January, cutting VAT from 20% to 5% for food, accommodation and attractions to boost profits.

As a major part of the service sector, which accounts for 80% of GDP, further damage to these industries would severely impact the UK economy. These measures aim to prevent closures on the scale initially predicted. But with many businesses still expected to close permanently despite these measures, the latest announcement will be little consolation for workers still facing job losses.

Overall, workers in all industries will find relatively little promised to them in the summer statement. The tax cuts and support packages are measures overwhelmingly aimed at helping business owners. Meanwhile, millions of working class people have been expected to put up with a 20% pay cut since March. Government support for workers in other vulnerable industries such as manufacturing was noticeably absent from any of the new plans. Those that own homes will feel the benefit of the scrapping of stamp duty, but there is still very little support for renters – many of whom will be preparing for evictions to resume next month.

Youth unemployment

Young workers, largely concentrated in the most vulnerable sectors of the economy, have been some of the most affected by closures, layoffs and unemployment. They will be receiving a support package of their own in the form of the ‘Kickstart’ scheme. £2bn has been pledged to create temporary job placements for 350,000 people under the age of 25 on Universal Credit.

Participants in the Kickstart programme can expect to be paid minimum wage, and work 25 hour weeks. At an estimated £820 per month, per participant, this falls short of even the average UK rental costs at £886pcm. Without a real living wage, the programme will be unable to secure a decent standard of living for young people. And after the 6 months are up, participants may find themselves back in unemployment.

The Treasury will be providing 200,000 placements, stopping far short of what is needed to provide for the 700,000 students coming out of education this summer, the 500,000 young people currently on unemployment related benefits – a rise in itself of 250,000 from March-May, and thousands more facing layoffs in the coming months.

A green recovery?

One of the largest spending packages announced was over £3bn aimed at a ‘green recovery’. This will include £2bn in funding for home insulation, £1bn to improve public sector building energy efficiency, and 50 million toward ‘decarbonising’ social housing. Sunak estimates that this will support 140,000 green jobs.

The ‘green recovery’ has been linked to a target of net-zero emissions by 2050. In 2018, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said we have 12 years to avoid a climate catastrophe. With just over 10 years to go, a target of 2050 will be understood by young people and climate activists as totally insufficient. Even when compared to the amounts spent recently on similar schemes by other capitalist countries such as Germany (£36bn) and France (£13.5bn) – and even these schemes are far from enough – the UK is woefully far behind.

Tory ‘New Deal’

The summer statement is a continuation of the increased spending seen from the Tory government in recent months, in an attempt to pull the economy back from a historic world economic downturn triggered by the Covid lockdown. The effects of lockdown were illustrated in Britain when the Bank of England reported a 20.4% fall in GDP in April. To put this in perspective, during the great recession in 2008, GDP shrunk by no more than 1% in any given month.

Recent Tory slogans about a ‘New Deal’ reflect a turn toward the ‘Keynesian’ economic policies of the 1930s, exemplified by US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s original ‘New Deal’. This involved similar forms of state funding and job creation, although not as far-reaching this time around. In recent months, the bourgeois press and right-wing Trade Union leaders have praised the sort of spending plans announced by the Chancellor as the result of him being more ‘sensible’ or generous than previous Tory chancellors who enforced vicious austerity. In reality these measures, and similar measures worldwide, have not come as the result of a sudden epiphany among neoliberal governments. Capitalist governments have in fact been forced from below to defend jobs to prevent social upheaval and a working class backlash. The measures provided have been the bare minimum, barely staving off total collapse in order to maintain stability.

At the same time, such measures have been coupled with a ramping up of the pace of reopening businesses in an attempt to restart economic activity. The government understands the risk of a 2nd wave as a likely result of a hasty reopening, but has shown itself willing to put profit before people’s lives. Meanwhile, they have sought to blame the rest of us for the recent spread of Covid-19. This was shown starkly by Johnson’s recent remarks blaming the spread of the pandemic in the care sector on care home staff not ‘following the procedures’. In reality, it is issues like the lack of PPE and casualised workers in unsafe conditions, without guaranteed full sick pay, that has led to the disastrous situation facing social care. Despite cynically clapping with people across the country just a few months ago for ‘heroic’ health and care staff, figures such as Sunak and Johnson have shown they are no friends of working people.

History tells us that any concessions won against the capitalist class will be taken back at the earliest opportunity. The government is expecting to do the same as we move out of the pandemic, with Sunak planning to “put our public finances back on a sustainable footing”. This will mean the withdrawal of the measures passed in recent months that have supported working class people throughout the early stages of this economic downturn, and a new wave of cuts.

The system is sick – capitalism has no solution

The measures announced in the latest statement will undoubtedly come as a relief to many workers, but for thousands of others, their limitations will be felt on a personal level through job losses and increasing financial hardship. Every job lost as a result of this crisis should be placed at the feet of the Tory government who have mismanaged the crisis from day one, and ultimately of the capitalist system they defend, which is failing globally to provide working people with a secure future.

The gap between the scale of measures needed in the current period, and the ones announced so far, highlights how far capitalism is from being able to solve the problems it faces. Much more than the limited state interventionism the ruling class has been forced into this year, we need nothing short of revolutionary change to truly tackle this crisis.

Companies threatening layoffs should be taken into public ownership to defend jobs, alongside the big banks and monopolies, under workers control and management. This would open the way for a democratically planned socialist economy that could guarantee full employment, a living wage and a genuine green recovery.

Johnson risks lives for profit – no return without safety – organise the fightback!

Boris Johnson’s latest update on the government’s fight against the coronavirus pandemic, attempting to outline a ‘road map’ toward moving the country out of lockdown, has left many people in Britain confused. According to a YouGov poll, only 30% of people feel they understand the new slogan of “Stay alert, control the virus, save lives”. The statement on Sunday has rightly been criticised for its self-contradictory nature, but behind the wishy-washy sentiment of ‘staying alert’ lies the worrying first steps toward prematurely forcing millions of people back to work in unsafe conditions – acceding to the demands of big business.

The government’s new guidance is to “actively encourage” workers in sectors such as construction and manufacturing to return to work, alongside others that are unable to work from home. People in these sectors could be expected to begin going into work again as early as this week. This announcement comes as new data indicates that low-paid and blue collar workers are already at significantly greater risk of falling ill from and dying as a result of the virus.

Meanwhile there has been no binding guidance given to employers on how to make workplaces safe in the era of Covid-19. Nor has there been any explanation given as to how such a reopening will avoid a surge in crowds on public transport – which has already shown signs of becoming unsafe this morning. Transport unions including the RMT have issued statements today calling for key transport networks such as the London Underground to be shut down should social-distancing measures become impossible. If the bosses are not prepared to take such steps, workers will have to take matters into their own hands through collective action.

Alongside this, tentative plans were announced to begin reopening schools in June, followed by the hospitality industry in July. For workers and young people facing a return to these potentially dangerous workplace conditions, this will be disturbing news. Even as the Prime Minister claimed we had ‘averted a catastrophe’, 4,000 new cases of Covid-19 were announced, and the death toll climbed to 31,855. With the transmission rate of the virus still unknown, and with continued shortages of testing and PPE, it is clear that we are far from a safe situation for most people to return to work.

Johnson’s announcement comes in the wake of increasing pressure from the cabinet and the Tories more broadly to reopen the economy. Ex-chancellor Sajid Javid is the latest to join figures such as Rishi Sunak and Michael Gove in the call to ‘run things hot’ – to revitalise the profits of big business as soon as possible, even if it means risking the lives of working people. Despite the Prime Minister’s claim to be driven by science rather than ‘economic necessity’, these plans – as well as the nature and the speed of their implementation – will be a reflection of the pressure from figures like these, as well as the capitalist class as a whole which the Tory government represents. As we enter a historic economic downturn, the aim of the ruling class is to resume business activity and to end the massive subsidies they have been forced to pay out in order to prevent outright economic collapse.

Similar steps to end shutdowns have also taken place over the last few weeks in other countries. However, the threat of a 2nd spike in cases presents a serious risk if workplaces are reopened too early, especially if they do not meet adequate standards of PPE and social distancing. Concerns have already been raised over new cases in China and Germany as these countries have eased restrictions.

Shut until it is safe!

Under section 44 of the Employment Rights Act, workers have a right to refuse to enter a workplace they feel is unsafe. For the workers’ movement, this presents an important opportunity to oppose the Tories’ plans. Beyond the public statements expressing concerns they have so far produced, the TUC should be leading a mass campaign of walkouts against premature and unsafe workplace reopenings. Trade unions such as the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) and National Education Union (NEU) have announced that they will support any members taking such action. But it should not be left down to individual workers or small groups to make these calls. It’s vital that such actions are organised and coordinated nationally – including across different sectors. What’s more, if workers in unionised workplaces take action, this can spread rapidly, drawing currently unorganised sections of the workforce into a mass struggle. it. Even in the absence of clear leadership coming from the union tops, workers can still take a lead from the level of the workplace itself. It is important that this is done collectively, rather than risking jobs on an individual basis. If workplace action is taken, workers will have to demand the union back them up.

The threat of a premature reopening of business shows the need for workers control over when and how such a process would take place in order to ensure the safety of workers, and by extension the community as a whole. If businesses cannot be trusted to protect the lives of their employees, they should be taken into public ownership, under democratic workers’ control and management. Rather than being dictated by the pressures of the capitalist market, an economy based on democratic public ownership would allow workers to genuinely put their health and safety first.

Covid-19: Wetherspoon workers win pay u-turn

As of the evening of 25 March, pressure from Wetherspoon workers has forced the company to U-turn on its decision to not pay its staff. Workers will be keeping up the pressure to guarantee no loss of wages and to pay all bonuses still owed. Socialist Alternative congratulates the Wetherspoon workers on this victory and sends solidarity. Below, we share a response written before this announcement was made.

Last Friday, Boris Johnson’s government made the announcement that pubs, restaurants and cafes were to close as a measure to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus epidemic. Alongside this, they were forced to announce new measures to cover 80% of wages for workers affected by these closures. This was an attempt to prevent the mass job losses recently seen in countries such as Ireland, Belgium and the USA where, as a result of workplace closures, millions of workers have been laid off. For many working class people in Britain, who will undoubtedly have seen the scale of unemployment emerging in other countries, this announcement will have come as a relief.

Unfortunately for the more than 40,000 people who work at Wetherspoon pubs across the country, the latest information from boss Tim Martin will provide no such relief. On Tuesday 24th March, the CEO informed workers that wages would only be paid up to the 22nd March. In a video message sent to staff, Martin suggested that staff should apply to work at supermarkets such as Tesco, as the government’s new measures would be slow to come into effect. Until the government funding is received – potentially over a month from now – workers will receive nothing from the company.

This callous announcement from management will have frightening consequences for many of the company’s low-paid staff, who are often already struggling to get by. In recent years, Wetherspoon workers have taken industrial action against the “poverty wages” paid by the pub chain. Although some may be able to find alternative employment, the prospect of a month without even the current meagre amount raises the question of how many of these workers can be expected to pay their rent and bills, or to feed themselves over the next month.

We won’t pay for this crisis

In a statement released the same day, Wetherspoon workers in the Bakers’ Union (BFAWU) called for full pay for staff. Socialist Alternative fully supports this demand. The current crisis has been caused by the capitalists themselves, whose inaction is rooted in their need to put profits first at every stage. Working class people are not the ones that should be made to pay for this.

In response to the outrage of staff and members of the public, Martin has claimed the company “does not have the resources” to pay its staff. In other words, they can’t afford it. But Wetherspoon has an annual turnover of £1.8 billion. To companies pleading poverty, socialists say: prove it! Open up the company’s books to public scrutiny, so that we can see where the money goes.

It is the workers who produce this wealth in the first place. If the bosses cannot be trusted to protect the jobs and wages of their staff, Whetherspoon and other large companies that try to make workers pay for this crisis should be taken into public ownership, under democratic workers’ control to protect conditions.

However the situation faced by Wetherspoon workers also demonstrates the fact that the measures introduced by Johnson’s government are far from sufficient. As a result, staff at other companies across the country will be open to the same treatment. Despite some media commentators describing the “socialism” of Johnson and Sunak’s recent measures, in reality, they are a way to maintain the position of the capitalist class and the stability of their system – not to truly defend the rights of the working class. In order to truly ensure full pay and to protect all jobs for ordinary people, we will need to fight for a socialist society, not the market interventionism currently being employed by capitalist governments racked by crisis.

Covid-19: a bar worker writes

Over the past weeks, Coronavirus chaos has swept through Britain. Public events have been cancelled, stock markets are in freefall and panic buying has set in across the country. Meanwhile for many workers – especially those in hospitality – it is business as usual, apparently.

With many non-essential services closing to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the hospitality industry stands as an exception. Pubs, clubs, restaurants and hotels are staying open despite the industry being particularly at risk of spreading the virus. Dozens of people confined in small spaces, exchanging physical cash and direct handling of food and drink – these are all fundamental aspects of this sector. Many hospitality workers have found themselves wondering when we will join the other workplaces closing their doors.

Johnson’s dilemma

The government understands the dangers of these businesses remaining open, but they are caught in a contradiction between the need to contain the pandemic, and a desire to keep the economy running in order to lessen the impact of the incoming economic crisis. A shutdown of the hospitality industry, which represents almost 4% of GDP, would have a serious impact. As such, the official guidance released this week has been for the public to avoid pubs, clubs and restaurants. At the same time, Boris Johnson has refused to close these places down.

The result is the worst of both worlds. Whilst, in the immediate future, many businesses will continue to serve the public – undoubtedly leading to further infections – the significantly decreased footfall could have disastrous effects in the short term, with many facing immediate financial difficulties and workers facing lost hours or unemployment.

This week, hospitality workers will have seen empty seats and cancelled shifts as the reality of the situation sets in. Our employers will not be able to afford to keep their doors open, and staff are already finding themselves effectively without work.

Businesses bailed out

As a result of backlash against this strategy, the government has been forced to announce measures including a £330 billion loan package as a temporary lifeline for businesses. These loans, to be paid back with interest at a later stage, will not solve the crisis facing hospitality in the long-run.

But where does all this leave the workers? Despite the big numbers, this package is most notable for the glaring absence of any sort of measures to provide for staff. All the new Chancellor, Rishi Sunak could offer was vague words around working with the unions for better employment support.

Last week, the government promised to introduce Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) from day 1 for workers off sick. However, at £94.25 per week, there is still enormous pressure to remain at work in order to meet the cost of living, even if sick.

Despite the bailout, customers opting to remain at home – not to mention a new recession – means the pressures on hospitality will likely continue. For many workers, especially those on zero-hour contracts, the government’s measures will do little to dispel fears of incoming lay-offs.

The recent example of Ireland, where over 340,000 workers have lost their jobs – largely in hospitality – is a stark warning to British workers. There is an urgent need to get organised and for the Trade Unions to launch a fightback against the threat of mass unemployment.

Workers need a bailout of their own

Boris Johnson’s government has proven that it is incapable of offering a genuine solution to this crisis. As a result of their inaction, potentially millions of jobs, and thousands of workers’ lives have been put at risk. For the working class families set to be devastated by these events, figures like 20,000 deaths will not be seen as a ‘good outcome’. We should have no faith in the current government to decide what measures are necessary during this outbreak. Instead, democratic committees of trade unions and communities should make recommendations themselves.

Socialist Alternative calls for the closure of all non-essential workplaces during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, workers should not be made to pay for this crisis – one that has been caused by capitalist governments prioritising business-friendly conditions over human lives. We fight for full pay for all those off work, whether due to workplace closures or sickness, and against all job losses as a result of such measures. Firms pleading poverty must open their books to public scrutiny. To compensate for lost income, grants should be provided to small businesses. Big companies threatening layoffs must be taken into democratic public ownership.

From the outset, COVID-19 has shown itself to be a symptom of a wider problem – a rotten capitalist system falling into a deep crisis. That is why we stand for an end to capitalist rule and the domination of the market. We fight for a socialist society based on democratic planning of the economy. On that basis, we would be able shut down the workplaces without threatening the economy or people’s jobs.

Expanse of dry, cracked mud

COP25: Capitalist world leaders have no solutions to climate disaster

The United Nations’ climate talks in Madrid have ended in a ‘compromise’ agreement. Whilst deadly wildfires and temperatures of 50°C hit Australia, world leaders have been locked in a stalemate, squabbling over targets.

These talks were greeted by hundreds of thousands of protesters, including Greta Thunberg herself, when they opened at the beginning of December. For most people, including the millions of young people who have taken part in school strikes across the world, dealing with the climate crisis is of urgent importance.

The 2015 Paris Agreement laid out a target of a maximum 2°C rise in global temperatures. This is in line with the threshold set by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Since 2015 though, world leaders have failed to respond to this challenge as the reality of reductions in global emissions falls behind where climate scientists have said they need to be. At their current rate, we are on track for 3°C of warming, which would have devastating effects on agriculture and coastal populations.

International cooperation

The failure of these talks highlights capitalism’s fundamental inability to seriously coordinate on an international scale. This system – capitalism – is riven by endless conflict between different capitalists, who constantly manoeuvre to displace one another in the search for endless profits. This is especially the case with the giant imperialist powers who dominate the global economy

The Paris Agreement calls for a ‘market based mechanism’ for fighting climate change. However, the role of ‘carbon markets’ proved to be one of the main stumbling blocks during COP25. Carbon markets allow the major capitalist countries to buy permits for carbon emission from poorer ones. Not only does this disadvantage poorer, less developed nations, in effect trade in permits and ‘offsets’ enables the countries with the largest emissions to avoid cuts. Trump’s strippped down US delegation was opposed to even these token measures.

As negotiations closed, leaders did little more than recognise that more work needs to be done to meet climate targets. Any real action has been pushed back until next year’s conference in Glasgow.

Glasgow 2020

The irony of Boris Johnson’s government hosting the international climate talks next year will not be lost on the workers and youth looking for a way to fight the climate crisis.

The Tory party is funded by big oil companies and climate denial organisations. It is failing miserably to meet its already insufficient target of net-zero emissions by 2050, yet still pushes through cuts and delays that hold progress back. Boris Johnson and the Tory government will not be able to solve the climate crisis because it is, at its core, a crisis of the capitalist system they support. That is why we have to get organised against them and their system.

On recent climate strikes, there have been strong steps toward building the climate movement beyond just young people. We have seen workers in trade unions joining the struggle, and this should be built on. Trade union activists should organise climate strike assemblies through their branches to strengthen links with student strikers, and to discuss a strategy for taking on this government.

Such a strategy could involve bringing more workers and trade unions into the struggle, but also fighting on the political field. We need to fight for a government that will put people and the planet before the profits of a tiny few. That would open the door for mass investment in green energy and technology, to take the big polluters into democratic public ownership, and to plan how things are produced on a sustainable basis.

Socialist Alternative fights for a government that can live up to this task. But we can’t stop there – the COP25 talks show that a much greater level of international planning is required to make a real difference. We are part of the Committee for a Workers International (CWI), which works internationally in over 30 countries for the system change we need.

What future for youth?

Last month, Greta Thunberg told UN leaders “you have stolen my dreams”. For many young people in Britain, this is a sentiment they can relate to. Growing up in the face of looming environmental devastation, and knowing nothing but austerity, it does seem as though our future has been sold off by capitalism.

The cuts delivered by successive Tory governments since the 2007/8 financial crisis have hit young people especially hard. Attacks on public services such as education and youth services have affected broad layers of young people, but especially the most disadvantaged layers. These cuts have been linked to the recent rise in knife crime – a phenomenon where the Tories have attempted to mask their responsibility through thinly-veiled racist rhetoric about increasing police powers.

For students it has meant a year-on-year decline in the value of the government’s maintenance loan. As a result, almost half of students find the funding is not enough to cover their living expenses. This means many have to find work to supplement their income. In the workplace, they face the same challenges as other young workers such as poverty wages and precarious contracts. Issues like these only exacerbate the housing crisis as young people are forced into cheap, low-quality housing, with 90% of students having to deal with issues such as damp, mould and pests as well as faulty utilities.

In these conditions it is no surprise that we are experiencing a mental health crisis. Rising rates of dropouts, depression and suicide among students highlight the effects of growing financial pressures, which have only been compounded by year-on-year cuts of 8% to NHS mental health services since 2011. For many young people, issues like these highlight capitalism’s failure to provide a meaningful future. And this is why some are getting organised.

Youth fighting back

In the last few years, we have seen groups such as the ACORN tenants’ union and the Cut The Rent campaign on campuses fighting the housing crisis. Additionally, a widespread anti-austerity mood has developed. This was reflected most strongly in the youth vote for Jeremy Corbyn during the 2017 snap election, but also in recent feminist ‘Reclaim The Night’ demonstrations, which have taken up the demand for councils to reverse cuts to public services to defend women’s safety at night.

Some layers have gone even further, and are beginning to look toward socialist or even ‘communist’ ideas. However, some confused and counter-productive ideas have also developed. In the context of a relative lack of workers’ action to point a way forward, there has been a development of ideas based in radical identity politics, and even neo-Stalinist ideas among some layers. However, clear Marxist ideas can cut across this confusion by pointing to the importance of a class-based approach.

Recently there has been an uptick in workers’ struggles. Last year, 42,000 university workers in the University and College Union (UCU) went on strike in defence of their pensions, with students showing solidarity across the country. Now UCU is balloting for further action. Socialist Alternative will be building support for any action workers take. Struggles like these can serve as an example of what can be achieved through collective action, and can inspire students and young workers to get organised themselves.

But young workers are also waging important struggles in the workplace themselves. We have seen important industrial action from hospitality workers in McDonald’s, TGI Friday and Wetherspoons (see report from Belfast overleaf). In the face of rising rent and attacks on working conditions, we can expect more struggles like these over the next period.

Strategy to win needed

Although there are certain struggles taking place among young people, many of them remain one-off, isolated actions. The recent strikes of precarious young workers show the potential that exists for channelling the anger that exists in society around worsening conditions, but many major unions are failing to connect with and draw in younger layers. Some smaller unions such as the Bakers Union (BFAWU) have had more success in this area. This action should be built on, as a step toward a fighting network of reps and organisers. Successful struggles of young workers could inspire others into fighting for similar gains.

Among students, the mood for change that exists has not yet been reflected in a broader student movement, as we have seen in the past. The lack of any lead by student organisations is an important factor in this situation.

The National Union of Students (NUS), historically the most important national body of the student movement, has failed to offer any kind of way forward for the various struggles taking place recently. In fact, its 2019 conference saw it moving in the opposite direction, away from the model of a participatory, campaigning body that students can use to co-ordinate their movement and more toward the approach of a think tank with a discount card. The NUS leadership revealed the existence of an internal financial crisis, the knowledge of which had been suppressed by the organisation’s unelected ‘Board of Trustees’. This crisis was used to push through ‘reforms’ which gutted the union of many of its democratic structures.

A new youth movement

It is increasingly likely that when a new student movement develops, it will not take shape through the NUS. Groups on the student left who have clung onto its structures have seen their membership collapse. It is more likely that new students’ organisations will be formed to co-ordinate the struggle. Movements like the climate strikes point toward the potential for young people to get organised and build a sustained campaign (see the report overleaf on York).

A key task going forward will be linking up the isolated struggles currently taking place, generalising the lessons and building new organisations that can fight for young people on all fronts. Socialist Alternative members will work to support these movements and connect them to the broader struggles of the working class. This must be linked to bold socialist policies to end the capitalist system that fundamentally drives all these issues.


Neil Moore, CWI Northern Ireland and Unite Hospitality

Every month a new scandal emerges around the treatment of some of Britain’s lowest paid workers in the hospitality industry. Zero hour contracts, tip theft, illegal deductions of wages and low pay are now the norm for young workers, whilst bullying, abuse and sexual harassment are widespread. At the same time, union recognition in the industry is practically non-existent with less than 2% of workers in service industries members of a trade union.

Organising this growing sector and precarious workers in general is a serious challenge for the trade union movement. Many workers don’t have full employment rights due to the short-term and temporary nature of their employment. Bosses are quick to victimise those who speak out or attempt to organise – by weaponising rotas, cutting hours or sacking workers for trivial reasons.

While organising as a young hospitality worker can be daunting – it is possible. Unite Hospitality – a new union branch in Belfast which young Socialist Party members play a central role within has been winning gains in the sector and laying the groundwork to organising this industry. Most importantly the branch has taken a sector-wide approach to organising – regularly visiting every workplace in the sector to speak with fellow workers about their rights, holding a weekly advice drop-in for both members and non-members, and, importantly, growing. The branch has more than trebled its membership in just under a year. Rather than appointing workplace representatives, shop stewards are elected and trained at a branch level which helps cut across the challenges of high staff turnover and victimisation.

Most importantly this new dynamic branch of predominately young workers is challenging the trend of decline and mostly conservative, defensive campaigns within the trade union movement. The branch is leading sector-wide campaigns on a nine point charter including the demand for a living wage, trade union access and zero tolerance for sexual harassment. As well as this the branch takes a political approach connecting our campaigns in the workplace to the wider demands and aspirations expressed by young people – against oppression, in the environmental movement and against sectarian division. This political and organising approach is the key to organising the ‘unorganisable’ layers of workers and will help young workers understand the relevance of the trade union movement today.

Jamie Chatfield, York

Socialist Alternative York made a bold intervention into September’s Climate Strike, despite an apolitical and anti-party mood that meant we were not even allowed a stall at the event. At the climate strike itself we sold 13 papers. At the rally we participated in a ‘citizens’ assembly’ style debate where we raised ideas about socialism, working with the trade unions, and the need for wider political discussions in order to attract larger numbers of people to these events.

Through the role that Socialist Alternative members play in York Trades Union Council, we have been able to foster good relationships with some of the school climate strikers and have been able to play an important role in helping them organise among themselves. York TUC also sent an open letter to the headteachers of all schools in York, calling on them not to sanction students who participated in the climate strike. Unfortunately this is still happening in many schools, and highlights the need for a joined-up approach from students and trade unions in future strikes.

A discussion meeting organised by school students took place on the following Sunday, with the room booking funded by York TUC. This meeting was billed as a debate on whether or not individual actions alone can be sufficient in combating climate change, but none of the young people in attendance thought that this was possible! The students understood the role that capitalism has played in creating climate crisis, and the need for a new system. A manifesto for change was agreed unanimously by the meeting and forms a promising and radical basis for future discussions.

These school students have energetic ideas and are planning a protest outside of Nestlé’s York headquarters, to highlight their terrible global record on climate change and workers’ rights. This protest will leaflet staff on their way in and out of the factory in a friendly way, but has unfortunately been met with suspicion and mistrust by some members of GMB who take a cautious approach to direct action that management will find disagreeable.

York TUC arranged a meeting with the GMB convenor and the school students, where this issue was discussed in more detail. The students pointed out that their protest is directed at Nestlé’s poor global record around the climate issue so that workers can be better informed, and highlighted that this protest can be an opportunity for further dialogue between workers and students. The GMB / Unite convenor suggested that the students could meet with Nestlé’s management, the unions and York TUC representatives to personally discuss their record on climate change. However, it does not mean that their protest will not take place at all. It is important that the momentum from the September climate strikes is maintained in the near future.