The Independent Workers of Great Britain (IWGB), a seven-year-old small union of mostly low-paid, often precarious, and disproportionately migrant workers, had its union-wide AGM on Saturday 8 June.
The IWGB, with almost 5,000 members now, is known for a combative and creative approach to fighting for its members, with loud, disruptive and sometimes secret protests, flash-occupations, and the like. IWGB ‘s ten “branches” — what in many UK unions might be called “sections”, although with considerably greater autonomy from the central union — gave reports.
The University of London branch, representing all categories of workers in the University of London, reported first. They told of a two and a half year campaign of strikes, coupled with encouraging organisations to boycott UoL’s Senate House in solidarity, and some partial wins. The branch reported support from branches and now the congress of the University and Colleges Union UCU, but did not touch on difficulties it has had — if any — with other unions in the same workplace.
The Cleaners and Facilities branch recently separated from the UoL branch, covering cleaners not otherwise represented. The energy and commitment of those cleaners, mostly Latino migrant workers, and the strength of the common organisation there of migrants and non-migrants and across linguistic barriers, is a living indictment of all those who seek to blame migrants for the plight of sections of the working class.
IWGB’s biggest branch by far is the United Private Hire Drivers branch, representing minicab drivers. It was with GMB, and migrated en masse to IWGB two years ago. Systematic overengagement of labour (to minimise waiting times) is an issue for them as for the Couriers and Logistics Branch.
Minicab drivers — those working for companies like Uber — face discrimination compared to “black cab” drivers. Minicab drivers are 91% BME, and black cab drivers 85% white. Minicab drivers are much more likely to be stopped by the police, and by Transport For London, despite higher rates of compliance with TfL regulations than taxi drivers. Taxi drivers have representation at TfL, and are exempt from London’s ULEZ (congestion charges), unlike minicab drivers. Minicab drivers have been fighting and winning, and are taking TfL and London mayor Sadiq Khan to court. Uber drivers have taken international action.
IWGB’s second biggest branch, organising previously largely ununionised workers, is the Foster Care Workers of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. There is a sister branch, the Foster Care Workers of Scotland. Foster care workers are badly paid, and falsely categorised — like so many of us — as “selfemployed independent contractors”. They face traumatic experiences with no or little support, and are often threatened with “de-registration” by their employers or local authorities.
There is a powerful gendered dynamic to all that. It was inspiring to see them standing together, standing up for themselves, and starting to take confrontational actions, as well as organising parliamentary pressure. A key aim is the establishment of a central licensing body and independent tribunals.
The second newest branch represents workers in the computer games industry. They are expected to do incredible amounts of unpaid overtime, working extremely long hours, and it is a not-very-diverse workforce. The workers who formed this branch had met with several unions before choosing the IWGB. They have no campaigns yet, and in general have low union density, but they are starting to assert themselves as workers IWGB’s legal department has dealt with hundreds of cases and dozens of employment tribunals, with a large success rate. The main goals are worker status and employment rights, trade union recognition, and dignity and respect — fighting bullying and the like.
As workers, our main power derives from the workplace and industrial action. However, previous class struggle has won some legal protections, and those are now another tool in our arsenal It should not, and with IWGB currently does not seem to, be seen as a substitute for fighting directly. IWGB’s financial situation sounds better than it has been previously.
Much funding comes from membership dues through recent expansion of branches, and a significant amount from external sources funding particular projects. Over the last year, the number of paid staff has roughly doubled, to over twenty. Robust democratic accountability structures are needed to guard against the danger of bureaucratisation. My follow up article will cover the AGM motions debates and unpick this issue in greater detail.
Talks restart at TDL
Duncan Parker, TDL courier and IWGB union rep
The 10 June strike by TDL couriers was postponed when negotiations restarted on Friday 7th. After months of silence from management, TDL CEO David Byrne emailed the entire fleet saying that negotiations had never been closed and threatened couriers with prosecution over behaviour during strike action. The email, coming a week before planned strike action, was seen as a cynical attempt to save face and discourage the couriers’ resolve.
The IWGB got ready for negotiations on 7 June, and unsurprisingly were stonewalled by CFO Tom Aimes, who refused to budge a few pounds. The CEO didn’t even bother to show up. Negotiations ground to a halt at 2 p.m. and a new meeting will take place next Friday 14 June. The couriers put postponement of Monday to the vote over the weekend and agreed to delay Monday’s strike to see if TDL will see the light when negotiations resume on Friday 14th. Watch this space for more developments.