Recent strikes mark dawn of new era for trade unionism to fight ‘gig economy’

This past week has seen a substantial amount of industrial action and not just from the usual suspects such as those affiliated with the RMT union. Instead, this week saw unprecedented strike action from across the country by low paid workers, working in fast food chains such as TGI Fridays and McDonald’s as well as workers from Weatherspoon’s and delivery drivers from Uber and Deliveroo. These workers striking for a living wage of ten pounds per hour are part of, what has come to be known as, the ‘gig economy’ a labour market characterised by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work, as opposed to permanent jobs.

As such these workers have been seen by some major trade unions as “unmanageable”, and unable to properly unionise due to their position they’ve been placed in by their contracts. However, their plight of low pay and horrific working conditions has been taken up by the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain, a fully independent trade union seeking to challenge the modern bureaucratic major trade unions on how to organise workers. They are much more autonomous than the major unions such as Unite and Unison and have waged a number of high-profile campaigns, with their use of direct action and social media, which has included the use of occupations and pickets. They are comparable and supported by the Industrial Workers of the World, a worldwide and historic trade union supported and funded by a broad range of radical leftists including Anarchists and Marxist Leninists.

These organisations recent strikes and protests against low pay this week have drawn the attention of major political figures, with shadow chancellor John McDonnell coming out openly supporting the strike and urging other MP’s to join the picket lines. This is comparable to another situation in the US where Amazon workers have recently been striking successfully for better pay and their campaign was supported by US senator and former Democrat presidential nominee Bernie Sanders. The co-option and support of these strikes by high profile socialists in the UK and the US can be seen as living proof of the momentum generated by these independent, militant trade unions fighting against worker exploitation.

Similarly, this week saw direct action taken by the recently formed renter’s union ACORN who picketed landlords and estate agents in Manchester and Birmingham in support of its members who are seen to be living in substandard accommodation facing insecure living and lack of repairs. Recent industrial action has led to the concession of demands from landlords to the union proving the power of industrial action in the ever growing ‘gig economy’

The recent strikes here in Britain organised and supported by new, autonomous and radical trade unions can be seen as part of the ever-growing militancy of the labour movement here in the UK. The success and size of the recent strikes this week has shown the power of organised workers in the ‘gig economy’ committed to industrial action guided by independent trade unions led primarily by young radical people here in this nation.

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Sam Glasper

Sam is currently a Labour Party member and a former member of the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist). Currently studying, and is interested in, the history and ideology of the far left throughout time across the world. Main interests are anti-imperialism, trans rights, anti-fascism and workers rights.

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