Posts Tagged ‘United Voices of the World’

Protest tells Harrods ‘Stop Stealing Tips’

Friday, January 7th, 2022

Protest tells Harrods ‘Stop Stealing Tips’
On Saturday 7th December 2017, the United Voices of the World trade union held a protest outside Harrods in Kensington demanding that the restauarant workers there receive the service changes that customers pay on meals.

The UVW is a grass roots union that represents workers in low paid sectors, and their members include chefs and waiters at Harrods. As well as demanding that the workers get the tips they are also demanding that conditions and wages to be improved for waiters who are currently paid at or a few pence per hour above the legal minimum, overworked and poorly managed.

A few people seemed not to support the protest

Harrods, the richest and most prestigious department store in the world, is owned by the immensely wealthy Qatari royal family – and they were then adding to that wealth by taking up to 75% of the tips that customers believed and intended to be going to the staff who served them.

THe UVW succeeded in getting a great deal of public support and even some from our right-wing mass media (it almost certainly helped there that Harrods is owned by foreigners) and several hundred people came to protest outside the store, notably including supporters of Class War.

Harrods was supported by a large contingent of police, who at times went beyond there duty to keep the peace and seemed to be taking the side of the Qatari royal family who of course have many friends in high places including the Foreign Office who will have put pressure on the Met to take effective action against the protesters.

Police film the protest from inside Harrods – but Class War held a banner in front of the doors

I described the protest as “robust but peaceful” and although at times the protesters blocked the entrances and crowded around the doors, at times holding them open they made no real attempt to enter the store, as police warned that they would immediately be arrested for aggravated trespass. A couple were arrested for trivial matters on the street during the protest, but generally the protest went well and people were in a good mood as it ended and I caught the tube to go home.

Later I heard that as UVW members were packing away their flags, banners, drums and vuvuzelas, police had come and made 4 more arrests, including that of UVW General Secretary Petros Elia. It also appeared that some had been dragged inside the store and locked up by Harrods security staff before being handed over to police.

All were later released without charge, but on police bail – with the condition that they were not to go within 50m of Harrods. It appears to have been a deliberate abuse of the law to try to stop further protests at Harrods – however legitimate these may be. One man who had been grabbed after letting off a smoke flare on the street during the protest – now a rather common occurrence at protests – had apparently accepted a police caution.

Following the protest, and with threats of more protests to come, Harrods finally gave in and agreed to give 100% of the service charge to staff, with an independent tronc master to administer the distribution with staff on the committee.

The UVW continues to fight for its workers at Harrods, and in December 2021 planned a further protest in advance of a strike in the Christmas shopping period. The strike and protest were both called off after Harrods agreed to large pay rises, taking all the waiters and chefs above the London Living Wage – for some it meant a pay rise of almost £5,000 a year, and Harrods has also guaranteed annual increases of 3% from 2023.

Small but active trade unions such as the UVW, along with a few of the major unions are showing that collective action works, while some larger unions seem more rather less interested in their lower paid members. In March 2021, Labour’s North of Tyne Mayor Jamie Driscoll published an article in the Journal and Evening Chronicle and on his blog with the title ‘What Have Trade Unions Ever Done For Us?’ which included the following two paragraphs

For a start, unions stopped child labour. Unionised workplaces are safer, with 50% fewer accidents. Every year unions train 10,000 safety reps. Union members earn, on average, 12.5 per cent more than non-members. They have better job security, and stay in their jobs for an average of five years longer than non-members. Unionised workplaces have higher productivity and fewer industrial tribunals.

Apart from that, though, trade unions have only gained us paid holidays, maternity and paternity leave, paid sick leave, equal pay legislation, pensions, and workplace anti-discrimination laws. Oh, and the weekend. It was unions that fought for a five day working week.

Jamie Driscoll’s blog

If you work, join a union. “You have a legal right to join a union. It’s illegal for an employer to disadvantage you because you are a union member.”

UVW at Wood St – 29 June 2016

Tuesday, June 29th, 2021

The strike and protests organised by the United Voices of the World union against anti-union cleaning contractor Thames Cleaning who employed the cleaners at the 100 Wood St offices in the City of London, managed by CBRE and mainly let to Schroders and J P Morgan is a good example of one of the things the current Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is aiming to prevent.

The UVW use loud rallies and protests outside workplaces (and sometimes in their foyers) to shame employers who are exploiting low paid workers, many migrants, into talking to the union. These workers, often employed by small and intensely anti-union companies, are often on minimum legal rates of pay, well below the London Living Wage and usually on the statutory minimum (and minimal) conditions of service – and sometimes even have problems getting these.

Outsourcing of low paid work such as cleaning is widespread, and contractors get the contracts by cutting costs – such as wages and conditions of service – and also by using bullying management to over-work their employees. Often too they cut costs by ignoring safety issues and failing to supply protective clothing and other essential safety material.

The UVW strike at Wood St was the longest industrial dispute in the history of the City of London, and it continued after Thames Cleaning had agreed to pay the London Living Wage for some days until they also agreed to re-instate the two workers who had been sacked. These pictures come from a rally on day 22 of the 58 day strike.

The strike was only successful because of the continuing pressure provided by loud protests such as this one, which made the companies working in the offices very aware of what was happening and made them and the building owners put pressure on the contracting company to meet the union and agree to their demands. Protests such as these, by the UVW and other grass-roots unions including CAIWU, the IWGB and a few branches of major unions have been successful in getting many of London’s lowest paid workers a living wage.

The PCSC bill, if it becomes law, will make these activities illegal. Already under existing laws, the company was able to take legal action to try and get an injunction to stop the strike. Although this failed it did get strict conditions put on the UVW’s actions at Wood St, and landed the union with crippling legal costs. Fortunately many supporters came forward with donations.

I came to take pictures on a number of occasions during the strike, which you can find on My London Diary. These pictures are all from Day 22: UVW Wood St Strike continues.

A Bad Day Out

Saturday, February 20th, 2021

I didn’t much enjoy Thursday 20th Feb 2020, though I was pleased to be able to cover a protest by UVW Security guards working at St George’s University Hospital in Tooting. They had been on strike for 3 weeks demanding to be directly employed rather than outsourced to a private contractor and working under the minimum legal terms and conditions of service.

Although they belong to the United Voices of the World union, the university had refused recognise or talk with their union, and has called on the police to intimidate the workers and try to break their strike – and police even carried out an unlawful arrest of a UVW staff member and barrister. I’d arrived too late on that occasion to photograph the picket, when everyone had left the area.

On 20th Feb I arrived too early. Although when I had first been sent details of the protest planned to take place on an Open Day for postgraduate students they were planning to start at 4pm, the time had later been changed to 6pm and I’d not checked before setting out. So I arrived two hours early and was surprised to find that I was the only one there.

After a little checking on my phone I found out what was happening, and decided that rather than missing the event I’d go for a walk around the area. It wasn’t a bad day for February, and I enjoyed the walk by the Rover Wandle, but by the time the sun had gone down it did start to get rather cold.

There was still no sign of the protesters, but after a phone call I met up with them close to Tooting Broadway station, where they had a large number of balloons to give the protest a party theme, and were writing slogans on them, which proved a little difficult. After some short speeches on a rather dark street corner they marched down to the hospital. It was hard to take photographs as they marched as the street lighting was poor and they were moving at a fast walking pace.

At the hospital they walked in though the main doors to a corridor area; there were very few security staff on duty, perhaps because most were on strike. I think perhaps the change of time for the protest had misled the hospital management as well as me, as there were no police present, though I had seen some when I arrived around 4pm.

Once inside there were more speeches with the union making their demands for the security guards to be made direct employees of St George’s University London and for them to receive pay and T&Cs of employment in line with SGUL standards. Among those to speak in support was drill music star Drillmaster who is standing for London Mayor.


It was a noisy protest, with music and dancing as well as speeches. Police arrived and after some fairly terse discussion came to an agreement with the protesters that they would leave in a few minutes time.

My day was not over, though I was already a couple of hours later than expected. I ran across Clapham Junction to jump on a train for home just as it was leaving, only for it to make an unscheduled stop at the next station, Wandsworth Town. After around 15 minutes we were all told to get off as the train would be going no further as the line was closed at Barnes where someone had committed suicide by throwing themselves under a train. Despite this being an unfortunately common happening at Barnes, South West Trains appeared to have absolutely no contingency plans. Eventually I got a bus back to Clapham Junction, a well-staffed station but where nobody seemed to know what was happening, and joined hundreds of passengers going from platform to platform in search of a train that would take one of the two alternative routes that avoid the accident location.

I took a chance and jumped on a Kingston train. No one on the platform or on the train knew how far it was going, but I knew that if necessary I could catch a bus home from Kingston. At Kingston the guard thought they might get to Twickenham – where again I might get a bus. Eventually it reached Twickenham, where everyone was told to leave the train. Fortunately by that time – two hours after the incident – someone had the sense to
set up a shuttle service for stations further west, and eventually I arrived home, around five hours later than I had expected when I set out and fuming at the incompetence of South West Trains.

More at:
St Georges’s Hospital Security Guards
Wandle Wander


All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.


UVW Hotel Visit

Friday, October 18th, 2019

Hotels are big business particularly in London, and its a highly profitable business particularly because it relies on exploiting low paid workers. The United Voices of the World is not the only union that takes up their cause, but it does so more directly than the larger unions, who have not had great success in either organising among the low paid often migrant workers the sector relies on, or at representing them.

Part of the reason for the greater militancy shown by the UVW is the reluctance of managements to engage with the union. Many hotels are run by organisations that are essentially anti-union and often prepared to flout even the weak laws on unions which we have, and to employ contractors who fail to implement even the minimum legal standards for wages, terms and conditions to provide their services.

I can’t comment with any certainty on the details of the individual case that led UVW members and supporters (including some IWGB members) to protest in the foyer of the Hilton Doubletrees Hotel close to Marble Arch. The union claimed that one of their members who had worked there for six months had been paid illegally at less than the minimum wage and was owed a large amount by the cleaning contractor.

Having got no satisfaction by contacting the hotel management and the cleaning contractor, the UVW had decided that some more direct action was called for, and around twenty of them walked into the hotel foyer and began to make their demands along with a great deal of shouting as well as loud music and dancing, demanding to talk to the hotel manager and the manager of the contract cleaning firm. 

Police eventually arrived and I was impressed that the officers tried to get the two sides to talk about the dispute. Unlike on many other occasions they actually listened to what the union had to say rather than simply try to clear them out with threats of arrest. By the time I left the protesters were still in the foyer and waiting for a representative from the contracting firm on her way to meet with them.

I don’t know how the dispute was finally settled – or even if it has yet been or whether the union is now pursuing legal action – but this was a good example of how the UVW is prepared to support its members. There are employers who rely on exploiting individuals, particularly migrant workers who are often ignorant of their rights and sometimes have a limited command of English to argue for themselves. The UVW educates them and speaks for them in meetings with employers, at employment tribunals and, if necessary, on the street at workplaces and has a remarkable record of successes through solidarity.

More pictures at Cleaners at Hilton Doubletree Hotel .


All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

There are no adverts on this site and it receives no sponsorship, and I like to keep it that way. But it does take a considerable amount of my time and thought, and if you enjoy reading it, please share on social media.
And small donations via Paypal – perhaps the cost of a beer – would be appreciated.


UVW celebrate victory

Wednesday, October 16th, 2019

The United Voices of the World had been planning to protest in support of the cleaners at Chanel in the West End who had held a strike ballot, and were planning to strike for the London Living Wage, but instead were meeting to celebrate the successful negotiation of the deal with the employers.

£10.55 an hour is the minimum that is calculated to be needed for workers to live in London, rather than the minimum wage that the government dishonestly calls a living wage, and which many low-paid workers are still paid in London.

Migrant workers in small grass-roots unions like the UVW have gained a living wage for many of their members in London, managing to unionise workers where the large established unions have – with a few honourable local branch exceptions – largely failed. One of the reasons for failure is language, with many of our low-paid migrant workers being speakers of Spanish or other languages and often with a limited grasp of English.

Unions like the UVW work in both Spanish and English, and also put on classes in English (and sometimes other subjects) for their members, many of whom have qualifications and experience in the countries they come from which they are unable to gain employment from here.

The UVW is one of several such small unions active in London, including CAIWU and the IWGB, and members of one often support others on their picket lines and protests. There is often support too from branches of some of the major unions such as RMT and Unison and Unite Community and other groups including Class War.

There are a few more pictures at UVW celebrate LLW at Chanel .


All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

There are no adverts on this site and it receives no sponsorship, and I like to keep it that way. But it does take a considerable amount of my time and thought, and if you enjoy reading it, please share on social media.
And small donations via Paypal – perhaps the cost of a beer – would be appreciated.