Youth activist Stella Rooney from the Better than Zero Campaign explains how workers are challenging low pay and exploitation through protest and direct action
I’M Stella Rooney and I'm an activist in the Better than Zero Campaign. Some of you may know the campaign, we were set up by young trade unionists just over a year ago to tackle a culture of precariarity which exists within so many workplaces. To give you an idea of the scale, in Scotland today, 100,000 workers are on zero hours contracts and nearly 400,000 earn less than the living wage.
At a time when so few young people are in trade unions, we have no way to organise ourselves.
We’re told by the likes of George Osborne that employment is on the rise but what's the use when our jobs are crap. It's low paid and low quality work that hits young people the hardest. The number of 21 to 30 year olds who are now classed as low paid has more than tripled over the past four decades. Young people are discriminated against through a staggered minimum wage, in which those over 25 now earn nearly double the amount that a 16 year old makes per hour.
At a time when so few young people are in trade unions, we have no way to organise ourselves. So better than zero decided to do something about it. When people started sharing their own stories about poverty pay, zero hours contracts and bad bosses, there was one name which kept coming up…Stefan King's infamous hospitality empire, G1.
Better than Zero organises to take on unpaid bar work across Scotland
G1 were fined by HMRC last year for failing to pay the minimum wage – never mind the living wage – to thousands of staff. And this is a company with a turnover of over £60 million pounds we're talking about here. Stefan King himself is worth over £54 million.
But it's not just about how light our pay packets are. G1, like so many employers, think it’s acceptable to not pay staff on time, to make them work unpaid after they’ve clocked out, to send them home early, to not give them breaks. Well we don't.
Over the past year, we've taken matters into our own hands. We've organised a number of direct assaults on G1, hurting their profits and public image directly. This took direct inspiration from our own referendum but also the fight for fifteen movement in America and the Ritzy Cinema workers. But it's not just about naming and shaming one individual company, we have much larger ambitions than that.
I want to take on anyone and everyone who thinks it's acceptable to exploit workers in the pursuit of profit.
We are the waitresses who spend our Saturday nights serving leery guys for £5.30 an hour, knowing that every penny of our tips goes straight into the pocket of our boss. We're the call centre workers who have their pay docked for going to the toilet. We're the single parents who worked only 30 minutes on our zero hour contract job today, yet had to pay for childcare for an entire day.
During the referendum I'm sure you were all sick and tired of being told that we were too wee, too poor and too stupid to govern ourselves. But this exactly what we tell 100,000s of low paid, and precarious workers every single day. And it becomes infuriating doesn't it? Being told that this is all you can hope for. I'm sick of being told that I'm worth less than zero.
Because if independence isn't won for people like us, for people of my class, then what is the point? I don't just want to target a couple of dodgy employers. I want to take on anyone and everyone who thinks it's acceptable to exploit workers in the pursuit of profit. I'm saying unequivocally no to the notion that those who yield power are untouchable.
The Scotland I voted for in 2014 won't be delivered by politicians. It will have to be fought for by working class people.
Many of you were happy to applaud the youth during the referendum. Let us lead the way again. As voter turnout drops down to abysmal levels in Scotland's most deprived areas – just 43 per in the Scottish election in my constituency Shettleston just down the road there – political engagement risks being the reserve of the middle classes. We've lost our bottle in post-referendum Scotland. It’s time for us be daring again.
The Scotland I voted for in 2014 won't be delivered by politicians. It will have to be fought for by working class people. I voted for the redistribution of power and wealth, not for any kind of romanticised notion of nationhood. Independence isn't a token. If we choose it can be a tool to end poverty pay, zero hours contract and to give people a little bit of hope, in a world which can sometimes seem so cruel. People's lives and rights are not political football, no matter what colour the government is at either Westminster or Holyrood. The referendum left so many of us hungry for change, and let me tell you, I'm absolutely starving.
Picture courtesy of Ryan Smith
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