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How Trade Unionists Organise around social issues:

We can’t picket the patriarchy.

Working in hospitality is difficult and demanding. There are clear issues with workplaces that can be addressed but what has never been addressed is the sheer prevalence of sexual harassment. In hospitality it feels like no matter what position you are in or what scenario the danger is there; pubs, bars, kitchens and breweries. More and more the spotlight is shown on it but this issue isn't new.

As a young woman who views myself as independent and assertive; I experienced a real difficulty with coming to terms with where my place would be returning to work after lockdown and what danger I would inevitably face. Hospitality workers, the majority of them precarious low paid women, experience the daunting thoughts I faced on a daily basis.

After becoming chair in my Trade Union branch of Unite Hospitality in Glasgow I chose to campaign against an issue prevalent and personal. Harassment is endemic in hospitality and as horrific as it is to say, accepted. This is due to a myriad of causes all interlinking with the overarching theme of a patriarchal system. Women are more likely to be employed in shift work, low pay and precarious contracts. This makes challenging toxic workplaces even more difficult. Bring in alcohol to the scenario and the environment is toxic. It’s accepted and brushed under the carpet and whatever position from chef de partie to General Manager you experience it.

What I believe is important is to look at the way you can address issues such as the endemic and deliberate sexism we face in hospitality. As trade Unionists the power is in the workplace and when the toxicity stems from there; tackle it. We are unable to picket every bar that excuses incidents it would simply not be impossible. So to tackle it from within the workplace and push for societal change is a new way of organising in hospitality.

We are women and trade unionists in Unite Hospitality and that is often taken for granted or overlooked so to now organise as women, workers and trade unionists we have the perfect trifecta to create real change. This entails a zero policy approach from both customers and colleagues of all levels. Addressing and identifying the incidents and empowering ourselves to be able to do so. I almost daily emphatically push for people to join their union and have the protection and confidence to stand up to this problem that I do.

As a social policy graduate I look in a critical way at downright draconian and deliberate policies created by Westminster to prevent women speaking out in their workplaces and it must stop. We need to organise to do this and as a novice organiser I can only see it through Trade Unions like Unite Hospitality. I have been given a platform, support and opportunity to engage and challenge this issue head on.

There is a long way to go before workplaces are safe and words like zero tolerance mean nothing unless there is a concerted effort from those ‘low skilled’, underpaid and exploited workers like the ones I work with every day. We collectively will challenge workplace misogyny, society and above all the patriarchal system that created this toxic environment. As Trade Unionists we have to make a stand and organise against both workplace issues and societal and with sexual harassment that encompasses both.

Blog by Caitlin Lee, Chair, Unite Hospitality, Glasgow


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