Chris Harman & Lindsey German


No more Grunwicks

(September 1978)

From SWP Industrial Discusion Bulletin, No.2, September-October 1978, p.14.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

THE STRIKE for recognition at Garners steak houses in central London could be entering a crucial phase. The management has shown the first signs of wanting lo talk to the TGWU. But there is a strong danger that the union try to force the strikers to accept a sell-out deal as at Nite Out in Birmingham. This means that strengthening the pickets is fantastically important.

Since the defeat of the Grunwick strikers last summer, there has been a tendency for people to see any long drawn out recognition dispute as a lost cause.

This is especially the case in the hotel and catering industry, where the last 18 months has seen defeats at a number of Trust Houses Fortes hotels, at Nite Out in Birmingham and at the Metropole and Claridges in London.

Unionisation is still proceeding in the industry. The TGWU has doubled its membership to 8000 this year, and last year the GMWU grew from about 20,000 to about 24,000(?). But these figures are abysmal compared to a total private sector labour force of 1½ million: fewer than one worker in 30 is unionised. And all too often the unionisation is only token unionisation. Employers make corrupt recognition agreements with union officials to save themselves trouble, and junior managers become stewards.

The Garners dispute is crucial because the militancy that has developed around the picket line could prise open a whole sector of the industry to real unionisation. Workers in scores of other central London restaurants, steak houses and hotels are looking at the strike to see what happens, before deciding how to move themselves.

Most of the 4000 or so recruits to the TGWU catering section this year have come because of the publicity of the Garners strike.

But can the dispute be won?

The simple answer is yes. The employer is in a much weaker situation than George Ward of Grunwick was.

Ward could keep his business going by smuggling films into his factories in mail bags. Gamers cannot smuggle customers into their restaurants in the same way.

Their trade has been cut by 80 per cent when there has been effective picketing of individual steak houses, even by a relatively small numbers of pickets.

The problem has been getting sufficient pickets to cover steak houses every lunchtime and every evening.

A relatively high number of strikers have stayed on the picket line for a strike of this duration; indeed, some who had dropped out have returned to the picket line in the last month. But they are not numerous enough by themselves to carry all the picketing all the time.

This should not matter. Stationed bang in the most crowded parts of the West End, Garners should have become a focus for sympathy pickets by every active trade unionist in London. Unfortunately, this has not yet happened. We have to make it happen fast.

Different rank and file groups have agreed to issue leaflets calling for backing for the picket. The aim is for particular industries to take responsibility for ensuring that individuals and delegations are down on the picket lines on particular nights of the week.

So far it has been arranged provisionally to call for:

Monday night – engineers, hospital workers

Tuesday night – TGWU

Wednesday night – builders, civil servants

Thursday night – teachers, NUJ, electricians

Friday night – Nalgo, printworkers, ASTMS

Saturday lunchtime – trade council delegates

It is crucial that London SWP members in these different unions fight now to get contacts and delegations down to these picket lines on these days. An additional 30 people a night would transform the whole situation of the strike by destroying Garners trade.

North London SWP have taken an initiative that can get to the picket line lots of people who are not yet active in their unions. They are organising transport to get a district picket every Tuesday night. That is a lead that other London districts must follow.

Saturday night is especially important, as it is the time that there is most custom for restaurants. For obvious reasons it is also the most difficult time to get delegations. But it should be possible to get rotas going to make sure there are people there every week. As students in NOISS return to colleges, they should press contact to join them in picketing at lunch-hours and on Saturday nights.

Where to picket

Day of action

September 30th will see a march and mass picketing called by the strikers. This needs to be given real support right cross London.

Finally the strikers need money. They are getting only £6 a week strike pay from the TGWU. Many union branches have given only token donations to the strike fund. Yet there are lots of places where regular collections should be possible.

The strike committee will send speakers almost anywhere. We have to make sure they are invited – especially in London, where a speaker will not only get a collection, but also pull in more support for the picket, (tel: 01-240 1056).

Last updated on 14 March 2010