Three members of staff at Saramago were fired after a work stoppage in protest of low pay and working conditions.
The Saramago cafe and bar located in the Centre for Contemporary Arts (CCA) in Glasgow city centre sparked demonstrations after removing three members of staff who claim they were unfairly dismissed in an act of “union busting” following a short 40-minute strike which took place on 3 March.
The owners of Saramago, who also own The Doublet on Park Road, made the decision to fire three workers on Friday 17 March – two weeks after the work stoppage took place.
The three workers are members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) who branded the firings “unjust, cruel, and downright cynical” and claimed that they were “just the beginning”. They went on to say that: “The IWW is aware that Saramago workers are not alone in their fight against stressful workloads and understaffing, we therefore cannot but see this attack as one aimed at workers within the hospitality industry as a whole.”
One of the workers who had been fired after working for the company since May last year spoke to the Glasgow Guardian saying: “It was quite a good place to work in when I started, but there were already some issues that needed addressed and some workers were already organised and I just joined the [IWW] because the quality of working conditions has decreased a lot and inflation has affected my pay.” The worker we spoke to also accused the staff of “emotional manipulation”, claiming that they made them feel responsible for their working conditions.
“We did a work stoppage of between 30 and 40 minutes and we got a lot of support from our customers. There were no risks to health and safety.”, said another Saramago worker. “Because of that, they carried out an investigation that didn’t go into the issues that needed to be addressed. They wanted yes or no answers and they concluded that we damaged the image of the business, which is something they’ve been doing for months.
“So what makes it very clear to us that this was an act of union busting is that these people were essentially fired for being affiliated with the union [because] there were workers fired who weren’t working on the night of a work stoppage”
In a statement put out on twitter, Saramago disputed this, claiming that: “No Saramago employee has been dismissed for being a member of a union, or for taking part in a union endorsed action.” but instead for “breach of contract by stopping work, damaging the commercial trading of the business, and bringing the business into disrepute”
They claimed that “The [work stoppage] occurred specifically because the owners and management had not responded to a letter from the group of employees within their proscribed 48 hour deadline…We feel that it is entirely unreasonable to expect a meaningful investigation of work issues to be completed within 48 hours.”
Saramago does not recognise their worker’s affiliation with the IWW, stating that “the first time that the IWW was mentioned in any form within the context of the grievances was on Sunday, 19 March, a full 16 days after the work stoppage, and two days after disciplinary action had commenced. The IWW is not an organisation that the majority of our staff are affiliated with, and is not a recognised union in the UK or affiliated with the TUC”
Demonstrations were held outside of the CCA throughout the week following the dismissals where the Clydeside branch of the IWW were joined by fellow workers and supporters from around Glasgow as well as other unions including the Unison, Unite, UCU and the RMT. Workers in nearby establishments also offered their support, with employees at The 13th Note organising a collection to financially support the sacked workers.
Many also took to twitter to express solidarity with the workers who had been let go. The hospitality branch of the Unite union tweeted in response to CCA announcing the Saramago would be closed: “This is what happens when you sack the majority of your workers for trying to unionise.” The Glasgow Short Film Festival also tweeted in support, saying that they “stand in solidarity with the workers and support them and [Clydeside IWW] in their actions against Saramago”. One twitter user also pointed out that the Portuguese writer José Saramago, who the Saramago cafe and bar is named after, was himself a communist.
The CCA has remained open, but Saramago itself has had to reschedule events and remain closed throughout the week. In a statement made on twitter, the CCA said: “CCA is aware of a demonstration scheduled for later today outside of our venue, relating to a staff dispute within Saramago Cafe Bar. Saramago is a business tenant within CCA, owned and managed separately from our organisation.
“Fair working is an organisational priority for CCA, and we therefore express concern and are communicating directly with Saramago Cafe Bar, our programme partners and our own staff as developments unfold.”