As we celebrate our ten year anniversary, we take a look back at the history of the IWGB, the achievements of our members and our vision for the future.
The Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB) was created to be “a worker led union organising the unorganised, the abandoned and the betrayed.”
We were founded in 2012 during a difficult and divisive moment for the UK. Working people were being forced to pay for a financial crisis they did not create and which was being used by politicians to justify an age of austerity. Public services came under attack from cuts and privatisation, ripping up the social safety net that millions of workers and their families relied upon. Poverty and inequality started climbing towards the historic levels we see today. The far right was on the rise and racist scapegoating of migrants from Europe and beyond was used to redirect blame away from government and towards those least responsible - and hardest hit - by the economic crisis.
All this made possible an unprecedented attack on workers’ rights at precisely the moment they were needed most. It also paved the way for the growth of the so-called ‘gig economy’, a wild west where more and more workers were denied basic rights that were supposed to be universal, such as sick pay, annual leave and a guaranteed minimum wage.
From its beginnings, the IWGB established itself as a union that fought hard for the hardest hit, those exploited by their bosses, abandoned by their government and neglected by the mainstream trade union movement. By centering their needs, whatever the obstacles, we developed a reputation for organising the so-called “unorganisable.”
Over the past decade we have become a leading voice for those workers, not just by putting them first but putting them in front to become leaders in their own right. With our model of courageous, worker-led campaigns fought in the streets, in workplaces and in the courts, we have helped make history and won victories once thought impossible, time and time again.
Our union has grown to represent thousands of people across the UK working in a wide range of sectors, from gig workers, cleaners and security guards to game workers, yoga teachers and cycling instructors. Each branch enjoys a high level of autonomy to allow dynamic and creative organising to take place with the support and leadership of the central union, and all are united by three core principles:
Building workers’ power - by developing grassroots leadership and giving members a meaningful role in decision making. This is vital because it is the workers on the ground who lead real and effective change.
Taking action - through strikes, protests and legal action, we look for creative ways to force employers to hear workers’ demands. For us, action is not a last resort but an essential element of how we grow our organisation, create community and build power.
Solidarity Matters - despite the efforts of bosses and politicians to divide and weaken us. We do this by supporting and learning from each other’s struggles across cultural and language barriers because we know that ultimately, we need to break down the barriers that are created to divide us so we can build a strong, united workers’ movement with the power to change the world.
Today, with the cost of living crisis following hot on the heels of the Covid-19 pandemic and another recession looming, these principles have never mattered more. There is nothing inevitable about the rising tide of exploitation, inequality and oppression that we face. These are the results of political decisions made by those in power and the corporations that stand to profit from the chaos at our expense. Only together, organised and unrelenting, can we fight back - and win.
Our history offers a blueprint of what is possible, but we are just getting started.
In our future, there is a whole world to win.
Hasta la Victoria Siempre.
The IWGB was founded In August 2012 by a small group of migrant cleaners from Latin America who had been let down by their union and were concerned by the lack of democracy, diversity and grassroots action in the trade union movement as a whole.
At the time, the IWGB was announced as reviving an older tradition of ‘industrial unionism’, a method of trade union organising which unites workers from different trades to build power and create more leverage against exploitative employers. This honoured the legacy of the original IWGB (the Industrial Workers of Great Britain), which was established way back in 1909. As our first Assistant General Secretary, T.L. Smith explained, the 20th century IWGB would be "an old union for new times." He wrote:
Some trade unions continue to stab each other in the back by crossing picket lines, whilst the efforts by the more radical unions like PCS to lead a united fight back against the Tory/Lib-Dem austerity programme have been actively undermined by right wing union leaders. Many workers feel their desire to change things at work is being constantly stifled by bureaucrats in their own union.
Even in these early days, our union waged and won a number of high profile campaigns for the London Living Wage at major universities and companies including John Lewis and the Royal Opera House, as well as pay rises for cleaners across the capital.
Alongside the formation of the IWGB, a group of mainly outsourced migrant workers had been organising and campaigning for better terms and conditions at the University of London through the Senate House Branch of UNISON. They felt increasingly unsupported and undervalued by UNISON, whose position was that since these were outsourced workers not directly employed by the university, there was nothing much to be done. The workers refused to accept this and were determined to challenge the injustice they faced.
Outsourcing is where a third party company is hired to deliver services or goods traditionally provided by directly employed or ‘in-house’ workers. This cuts costs for the bosses because they do not have the same legal obligations to give outsourced workers basic rights or fair terms and conditions. It also pits workers against each other and perpetuates structural racism by creating a two-tier workforce in which outsourced workers, often from Black and minoritised backgrounds, are made second class citizens.
In 2011 the workers launched a ‘wildcat strike’: industrial action taken without permission from their union leadership. By 2013 they had won the London Living Wage and started the now famous 3 Cosas or “three things” campaign for sick pay, holiday pay and pensions. UNISON actively tried to undermine the campaign and in the spring of 2013, went as far as to invalidate branch elections, refusing to engage with its own democratically elected workplace representatives. One of those workers, Henry Chango Lopez, is now our General Secretary. As he and our former General Secretary, Jason Moyer-Lee, explain:
The day after the announcement on the invalidation of the elections was made we held a protest at the UNISON head office. UNISON responded by calling the police - the final straw for many members - and within weeks the outsourced workers had voted to leave UNISON and join the IWGB … we believed the IWGB had a similar history and approach to us. They had come out of a big union (UNITE), were militant and not averse to confrontational tactics.
Electing Henry as chair of the branch and now free to fight for equality, the 3 Cosas campaign of outsourced cleaning, catering, and security workers went from strength to strength. When they voted to strike, in place of the previous half-a-dozen token picketers, the whole workforce turned out and the entrance of Senate House became a protest fiesta. This upsurge of grassroots militancy emerging could no longer be ignored. After just two days on strike, workers won the right to six months of full sick pay and five extra days of annual leave per year.
This marked a massive leap forward for the branch and for the IWGB. It was the first time that these workers had taken industrial action in living memory and their victory sent a clear message that this bold new union was doing things in a new way.
2014 kicked off with a bang for the University of London Branch, with a further three day strike in January continuing the 3 Cosas campaign, which had broken into the mainstream press coverage and achieved national prominence. To capitalise on this we launched a national speaking tour of campuses to spread the word and raise funds for the struggle, even taking the stage at Glastonbury with Billy Bragg!
Pioneering new techniques to maximise the impact and visibility of our campaigns, workers also mounted a double-decker bus to tour London on their way to the Houses of Parliament. Seminal photos show the only two MPs to be photographed with the striking workers: Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. At the time they were anonymous back bench MPs but the relationship forged then would persist as they continued to support all IWGB endeavours and sought our advice on worker rights issues as leaders of the Labour Party.
That year, new campaigns erupted as the IWGB refined and replicated the strategy that made 3 Cosas such a success. In February, IWGB porters and cleaners working for MITIE at the Royal Opera House secured a landmark victory in their fight for the London Living Wage, following a unanimous vote to strike during the BAFTA awards that month. The campaign had secured wide support, including from MPs, the Musicians’ Union, the actors’ union Equity and public figures like Ken Loach.
At the Barbican Centre, a 12-month campaign of peaceful protests, strikes and direct action successfully secured workers the London Living Wage, while catering workers employed by Aramark at the University of London won a fast and fierce victory, winning 3 Cosas terms following a rapid recruitment drive. Henry Chango-Lopez says:
"It's incredible to see how the 3 Cosas campaign strategy has lived on, winning victories for migrant workers across the country who are ready to stand up and refuse to be treated like second class citizens. I could see from the early days that we had something special, you could not be on campus in those days not be feel that grassroots power that was building. But I could never have imagined just how many lives we were destined to change when we first stood up and said no, enough is enough, and if the government and the big unions aren't going to fight for us then it's time for us to fight for ourselves. That's a legacy I am very proud to be part of."
The increased militancy of workers and students at the University of London that year provoked a draconian pushback from authorities, with university administrators regularly calling on the Metropolitan Police to suppress IWGB-led strikes and protests. But the rising tide could not be stopped. On Saturday 26 April hundreds of members headed to central London for the IWGB’s first ever Annual General Meeting (AGM). This historic event culminated in a night long fiesta at the University of London Union.
2014 also saw us launch free English classes to empower workers to negotiate for themselves, escape the low-wage trap and act in solidarity across cultural and language barriers. This was particularly important now that we were attracting more academics and professionals, tired of the stale offerings of traditional unions and inspired by the courage and conviction of the IWGB’s worker-led campaigns.
It was time for the IWGB to graduate from the beloved University of London Union broom cupboard, where we had our humble beginnings, and move into an office in Lambs Conduit Street. With room for more than four people, it was a sure sign that the IWGB meant business!
Today it’s hard to imagine the IWGB without our Couriers and Logistics Branch but it wasn’t actually formed until 2015. Max Dewhurst was one of a group of couriers working for different gig economy corporations who first reached out to the IWGB, recognising the need to come together to tackle shared challenges. They spent three months spreading the word about an open meeting, where couriers came in droves to hear what the IWGB had to say and then voted to form a new branch. The branch recruited solidly for three months before launching its first living wage campaign against CitySprint, where they protested outside the head office in Shoreditch and stormed the offices of high profile clients like Google.
Trapped in a gig economy which worked them into the ground but denied them basic rights like sick pay, holiday pay and a guaranteed minimum wage, couriers knew that if they wanted a fair deal, they would have to fight for it - and not just at CitySprint. Workers started campaigns at eCourier and Mach1 where they soon won the London Living Wage.
While many gig economy corporations claim that the flexibility of self-employment can only come at the cost of basic worker rights, couriers could see that the corporations need flexibility as much as they do and were using this as an excuse. So we launched a tribunal case to fight for couriers like Max to be given worker status, which would preserve flexible work while also granting basic worker rights like a guaranteed minimum wage, paid annual leave and protection against unlawful discrimination. As Max explained:
I’m taking this action because I have personal experience of earning, and know many courier friends earn, below the national minimum wage. Our lives tend to be thrown into financial chaos when we want to go on holiday. Worker status will finally redress some of the balance between couriers and courier companies, and transform our lives for the better. These benefits have for too long been withheld by courier companies and only serve to make it easier for them to exploit their workforce. It is time to afford couriers some basic employment rights.
Off the back of this new movement for justice in the gig economy, August 2016 saw the first ever strike of workers in the platform economy, with a six-day wildcat strike by Deliveroo riders in London. The IWGB supported workers at protests outside Deliveroo’s headquarters. Large numbers of riders joined the Couriers and Logistics Branch and the strike successfully delayed the exploitative new payment scheme proposed by Deliveroo.
Before 2016 was over, the IWGB had formed another new branch: the Foster Care Workers’ Branch. Councils across the UK had been slashing fees, training budgets and basic allowances, leaving many foster carers struggling to get by on sub-minimum wage pay. Like the couriers, they had no formal employment status, making it difficult to challenge. Inspired by the couriers’ example, they had decided that enough was enough. As foster care worker and former branch chair, Jane Wright, explains:
When I went to a public meeting hosted by the IWGB I realised how much we had in common with gig workers. We do essential but insecure work on precarious contracts for poverty pay, without basic rights like annual leave and sick pay. Even though we provide professional, 24/7 care to some of our communities’ most vulnerable children, 9 in 10 foster carers aren’t paid a living wage. I was so inspired to see gig workers coming together, fighting back and winning victories that everyone said couldn’t be won. I signed up there and then.
Through the 2000s, more people had been moving into platform gig economy work, without the expectation of basic labour rights. But in January 2017 when the IWGB defeated CitySprint at an Employment Tribunal, something shifted and Max Dewhurst became the first gig worker to win worker status from one of the big courier companies that dominate London. Just like the 3 Cosas campaign, which proved the IWGB strategy could win big on the picket line, our landmark legal victory against CitySprint showed that we could win in court as well.
After CitySprint, IWGB couriers went on to win flexible worker status at eCourier, then Excel and then The Doctors’ Laboratory (TDL), with Deliveroo riders joining the movement and speaking out against subminimum wage pay. Drivers for the iconic Addison Lee taxi company mounted a successful challenge as well. The United Private Hire Drivers (UPHD) voted to join as a new branch and together we prepared to take on a global gig economy giant: Uber.
The IWGB was now bringing precarious workers together from across different sectors, countries and languages and in October 2018 they came together to protest for the first time under the rallying cry “precarious workers fight back!” In a show of solidarity they marched across London, visiting (and occupying) each others’ corporate headquarters.
The lightning rod for the protests was the ongoing UPHD tribunal case against Uber for worker status and was soon followed by a strike of Uber drivers. They demanded basic worker rights, a £2 per mile fare, a corporate commission cap of 15% and an end to bullying and unfair terminations. With the IWGB and GMB mounting this legal challenge to Uber, the corporate giant was already feeling the heat and was forced to concede sickness and parental cover to its workers across Europe, including 70,000 in the UK.
Meanwhile, the campaign at TDL went on to win a historic victory when the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) granted the union statutory recognition. The IWGB had won the first ever union recognition deal in the whole of the gig economy. In concrete terms, this was life changing because it afforded them collective bargaining benefits including paid holidays and pensions. They continued to campaign against pay cuts enforced in previous years, organising protests at the TDL head office.
Elsewhere in the union, the Cleaners and Facilities branch launched a campaign to stop redundancies at Ernst and Young, with protests disrupting a Picasso exhibition sponsored by the company. 2018 also saw the formation of the Game Workers’ Branch, organising workers across the videogame industry. As Declan Peach, one of the founding members, explained:
For as long as I can remember it has been considered normal for games workers to endure zero-hours contracts, excessive unpaid overtime, and even sexism and homophobia as the necessary price to pay for the privilege of working in the industry … Now, as part of the IWGB, we will have the tools to fix this broken sector and create an ethical industry where it's not only big game companies that thrive, but workers as well.
The TDL campaign levelled up in the spring of 2019 as couriers now pushed back against a nepotistic system that saw favoured workers paid two to three times more than their colleagues. Workers voted to take two days of strike action, occupied the loading bay at TDL headquarters and rode a motorbike protest to disrupt high paying clients in Harley Street. Soon after, TDL came to the negotiating table and agreed to grant holiday and sick pay as well as making wages higher and fairer.
In April, Transport for London singled out private hire drivers and removed their exemption from congestion charge. 94% of London’s private hire drivers are Black and minoritised, with 70% coming from impoverished communities, which is why the IWGB called this out for what it was: a tax on the poor. Our legal team took action in the High Court, arguing that the tax was unfair and racist. The judge agreed the impact of the charge was "stark" and "troubling" but would not rule it unlawful. Rather than rely on the courts for justice, the UPHD Branch had also organised a series of protests, blocking bridges in central London and bringing national attention to the way gig workers were treated as second class citizens.
After a summer of hard graft organising, the autumn of 2019 saw new worker-led IWGB campaigns erupt all over London. The Cycling Instructors’ Branch was launched in November and began campaigning for recognition, basic protections and fair pay from local councils. The Cleaners’ Branch organised a campaign at 5 Hertford Street, an elite private members’ club owned by one of Boris Johnson’s biggest benefactors and known as ‘Brexit HQ’. The majority-migrant kitchen porters voted for strike action and under pressure from the strike and some high profile press coverage, all their demands were met.
By now, the University of London Branch had grown into the Universities of London Branch and was also organising autumn strikes as part of its ongoing campaign to end outsourcing. Workers went on strike in November and in December, when industrial action was coordinated with the University College Union (UCU) strikes over pensions. Maritza Castillo Calle, a former UCL cleaner and now IWGB Vice-President, said:
“Outsourcing forces us to work sick and injured, to work all our lives and still retire in poverty. For decades, UCL has treated its majority migrant and BAME outsourced workers like second class citizens, condemning them to a system of bullying and discrimination. By voting overwhelmingly in favour of strike action, UCL’s outsourced workers have sent the university a clear message. They will no longer stand for half measures and endless delays. They want equality and justice, and they want it now.”
This united workers across the university, bringing the campus to a standstill and securing another spot in history for the IWGB for leading the largest strike of outsourced workers in the history of UK higher education. After this, outsourced workers finally won a commitment from the administration to give equal pay and conditions to every worker on campus.
2020 got off to a strong start, with the Universities of London Branch also continuing to rack up victories with its strategy of strikes, protest, legal action, university boycotts and mobilising student solidarity. Security workers at Goldsmiths University won their campaign to be brought back in-house and by November, after almost a decade of campaigning, all University of London cleaners, porters, security staff, post room and audiovisual staff were at last brought back in-house on terms and conditions equal to the rest of the staff.
Meanwhile, the Foster Care Workers’ Branch also won a major victory with its landmark legal victory over Glasgow City Council. IWGB members Jimmy and Christine Johnstone became the first foster care workers in the UK to be recognised as employees with full worker rights to sick pay, holiday pay, whistleblowing protections and a guaranteed minimum wage. This set a major precedent for the sector, opening the door for worker rights to be established for foster care workers throughout the UK. As Jimmy Johnstone explained:
For years we were told we had no rights. No employment rights, no right to representation or due process and no right to speak out even when our family was at risk. This is the reality facing foster care workers nationwide. Three times in four years we’ve had to fight and win our case but with the support of our union, we have won the day. All foster care workers want is to have basic protections everyone should be entitled to so that we can do the best job we can for our young people.
The IWGB also launched two new branches, the Charity Workers’ Branch and a new General Members Branch, which is open to workers from all sectors who want to start organising. Members receive support to get started in their workplace and establish new branches and by bringing workers together from different sectors, the branch continues to honour the spirit of industrial unionism within the IWGB.
A new leadership for the IWGB was also elected in 2020, with our long-standing General Secretary, Jason Moyer-Lee, stepping down. The new leadership included Henry Chango-Lopez as General Secretary, Alex Marshall as President, and Catherine Morrisey as Vice-President. All three started out as union members and emerged as grassroots leaders and they were elected as part of the Hasta La Victoria slate, standing for a focus on workplace organising and developing new leadership. Upon his election, Henry said:
I have the experience of being in the union since the beginning, when we had about 300 members and no office. I used to work as a cleaner and porter at the University of London. Before I joined a union I didn’t know anything about unions and I was an exploited worker so I am very proud of what we have achieved.
Working closely with branches and officials, my focus will be workplace organising, fighting outsourcing, developing new leaders and building capacity. The IWGB will continue to be a light at the end of the tunnel for so many exploited workers. There are lots of people out there who see this union as a beacon of hope.
Now was certainly the time for a beacon of hope because in March 2020, the pandemic broke out. As most of the country went into lockdown, IWGB members found themselves on the frontlines of a global public health crisis. Precarious and migrant workers long dismissed as casual or ‘unskilled’ by the government, were now being recognised for what they had always been: key workers.
The gig economy and precarious migrant labour force has long been testing laboratories for big corporations to see how much exploitation they could get away with, so at the IWGB we have always understood the vital link between their rights and everyone else’s. Now, the infectious nature of Covid-19 and the sudden visibility of the cleaners, couriers and drivers who kept Britain going, made that link clear to millions of people.
Covid had made worker rights a life-and-death public health matter and IWGB workers doubled their press appearances as our union emerged as a leading voice on pressing issues like statutory sick pay provision, support for the self-employed and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
During lockdown, thousands of key workers were forced to commute to non-essential jobs under dangerous conditions - cleaning empty universities, for example, so they could justify continuing to charge full tuition fees - while many more working in essential jobs were denied PPE and sick pay. Henry Chango-Lopez gave evidence to parliament about the gaps in government policy that were pushing millions of low-paid workers into preventable sickness and poverty, arguing that essential workers deserved essential rights.
In response to unprecedented need, the IWGB set up an emergency Benefits Team to support our members and the legal team supported and advocated for over 2000 people over the course of the pandemic, dealing with everything from redundancies to health and safety breaches. We also brought a judicial review against the government in the High Court for its failure to safeguard frontline workers in precarious jobs and the gig economy, where our victory extended basic health and safety protections to millions of workers wrongfully denied them.
Despite the chaos of Covid, we were also still reaching new groups of workers in sectors that had never seen union organising before. One of these was the yoga industry, where self-employed teachers had seen their work disappear overnight. Early in 2021, the Yoga Teachers’ Branch was launched with a focus on tackling poverty pay, the lack of basic rights and a culture of bullying and sexual harassment.
Then, on 17 February 2021, we lost one of our members in the worst way imaginable. Gabriel Bringye was stabbed to death in his car in Tottenham while working for Bolt. The app failed to raise so much as an automated welfare check when it showed him as stationary on a local journey for almost six hours. Alongside the local Romanian community, we rallied around Gabriel’s family and following a vigil in his memory, strike action was called.
Gabriel’s death became a focal point for drivers, the most of whom have been subjected to physical assault at work in a sector where the corporations that get rich from their labour take no responsibility for their wellbeing. This launched the Justice For Gabriel protest campaign, led by his sister Renata and his fiance Mara. The campaign continues to this day, demanding better rights and protections for drivers like Gabriel so that this never happens again.
2021 also saw the IWGB go toe to toe with Deliveroo once again in the run up to the corporation's Initial Public Offering (IPO) on the London Stock Exchange. We teamed up with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism to produce a hard hitting expose which revealed that a third of Deliveroo riders are paid sub-minimum wage, with some receiving as little as £2 per hour.
Riders went on strike and we produced a briefing for investors outlining how poverty pay, health and safety concerns including poor COVID-19 protections, litigation and industrial action added up to make Deliveroo too risky to invest in. With over 70 MPs supporting our call for change, these concerns and a strong campaign convinced many of the UK’s biggest investors to pull out, costing Deliveroo over £3 billion and showing once and for all that the short-term profits of exploitation can be turned into long-term costs when workers unionise, organise and resist.
Despite the ongoing pandemic, we kept winning victories through 2021. At the Court of Appeal we intervened in a landmark legal case to help establish foster carers workers’ right to trade union membership and recognition. London based cycling instructors began protesting a 12 year pay freeze and devastating cuts to public funding for cycle instruction in the capital, in a campaign that would ultimately win back over £125,000 of funding in Haringey, Waltham Forest, and Hammersmith & Fulham boroughs.
Members also launched fierce campaigns against a host of injustices across the gig economy. We protested against Uber’s racist facial recognition algorithm and unfair terminations of private hire drivers; supported Black and minoritised key workers whistleblowing over exploitation at ‘ethical’ companies like Ocado; and raised national awareness about rising levels of harassment and assault against drivers and couriers in the gig economy, as we held corporations to account for their safety in the streets.
Harassment and assault in the workplace is often very gendered. Although the majority of women and nonbinary folks have been sexual harassed at work, only 1 in 5 report this to their managers, with less than 1% reporting to their trade union representative. That’s why we teamed up with Latin American Women’s Rights Services and United Voices of the World on the IWGB Women’s Project, which delivered workshops to empower women and non-binary workers to identify and eradicate gendered violence and harassment in the workplace.
2021 also saw the launch of the IWGB Solidarity Squad, which welcomed allies into the fight for our frontline, and also our IWGB School of Organising, which provided a multilingual, participatory training program for new grassroots leaders. As Henry Chango-Lopez explained:
We want to train a new generation of grassroots leaders to build a bigger and better union that is proactively anti-oppressive and where everyone has a voice. This course will be a great step forward in building our organising capacity and putting our members at the centre of all of our campaigns.
2021 came to an end with another record broken: the launch of what would prove to be the longest continuous pay strike in the history of the UK gig economy. Stuart couriers from IWGB took industrial action after their pay was cut by almost 25% just before Christmas - while their top director got a 1000% pay rise. A powerful example of “one rule for us and another for them,” the strike garnered national publicity and support from MPs and thousands of members of the public. It also lent weight to the IWGB’s worker status claim on behalf of over 150 Stuart couriers as we fight for their right to annual leave and a guaranteed minimum wage.
IWGB members are amongst the hardest hit by the cost of living crisis, which was already starting to bite at the beginning of 2022, long before it hit headlines. Research conducted by the IWGB shows that while the cost of living and the cost of working in the gig economy is soaring, for as many as half of gig workers pay is actually falling, forcing 8 in 10 to cut back on food and energy costs and 4 in 10 to take up a second job.
In the new year, with the Stuart strike ongoing, the Foster Care Workers’ Branch launched a new campaign in Glasgow to protest a 10 year freeze on allowances. While the campaign successfully secured commitments from Glasgow City Council to recommend an allowance increase, the unelected officials responsible for social care refused to implement the recommendations and so the campaign continues.
In London, private hire drivers took to the streets to protest poverty pay, poor driver safety and unfair dismissals, receiving international solidarity from unions as far away as Nigeria and Uruguay. The Yoga Teachers’ Branch also launched their first campaign to tackle the epidemic of sexual harassment in the industry. 80% of the casework brought to the IWGB from this branch relates to sexual harassment and the branch is leading efforts to support survivors and make the issue impossible to ignore any longer. As Hayley Johns, secretary of the Yoga Teachers’ Branch, explains:
In the yoga industry, teachers often work alone in private settings and without regulation or adequate structures, we have nowhere to turn when we are harassed at work. But when we come together as a union, we are no longer alone. Together, we can demand action from those in positions of power to improve safety and conditions for yoga teachers and students across the UK.
The Charity Workers’ Branch, the youngest branch of the union, also won its first major victory in 2022. Workers at the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) were refused voluntary recognition three times despite the RSA’s publicly progressive and pro-union stance. IWGB workers then called them out in the press and organised for a successful ballot forcing statutory union recognition for the first time in the institution’s 268 year history.
Meanwhile, outsourced migrant cleaners launched new campaigns at public institutions across London. At London Bridge Hospital, they mobilised against outsourcing and poverty pay, where they blew the whistle about Covid safety violations by one of the world’s largest private healthcare companies, the Health Corporation of America (HCA). By November, following protests and high profile press coverage, they successfully put an end to outsourcing at the hospital and their campaign for a London Living Wage continues.
Two new sister campaigns also sprang up in 2022. One was launched by hundreds of migrant cleaners at University College London (UCL), where they also called for an end to outsourcing, zero hours contracts and poverty pay. A third erupted at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) after an independent report highlighted structural racism at the heart of the institution and migrant cleaners began protesting over outsourcing and poverty pay. Building on previous victories and joining together in an incredible show of unity and strength, cleaners at both LSHTM and UCL staged joint protests which garnered strong support from staff, students and the wider public.
After four LSHTM workers were suspended for participating in a peaceful protest, the IWGB threatened legal action against the administration on their behalf and cleaners at both universities went on to vote for and take strike action. LSHTM’s attempts to intimidate workers were met with widespread condemnation from the public, members of parliament, prominent journalists and public figures. By fighting on, the campaign ultimately secured a public promise from LSHTM to end outsourcing and enter negotiations over pay. Workers on both campuses continue to organise and campaign for fair terms and conditions and union recognition for the IWGB.
Just as IWGB workers have been eliminating outsourcing from public institutions for a decade now, our tenth year also saw new victories against an old adversary of the Couriers & Logistics Branch: the Doctors’ Laboratory (TDL). Following hard-won negotiations, the IWGB has now won, for the entire workforce, full employment rights and new contracts which provide sick pay, holiday pay, pensions and starting salaries of over £42k plus expenses. Six years of public campaigning, strikes and legal action, standing firm in the face of bullying and victimisation, took an undervalued, precarious and dangerous gig economy job and transformed it into one that is safe, sustainable and fair. As IWGB President and former TDL courier Alex Marshall explains,
Before the IWGB began organising at TDL, couriers lived day to day, not knowing how much money they would take home and not knowing if they would get fired for no reason. Like workers across the gig-economy, they were denied basic rights and treated as disposable. Now, after a series of hard-won victories, couriers have the kind of jobs you can build a future around. Amidst a spiralling cost of living crisis, this deal shows that a worker-led, fighting approach to union organising can win rights and dignified pay, even in some of the most exploitative sectors of the economy.
What next? That’s up to you! Help us write the next chapter of our story. Join the IWGB as a member at iwgb.org.uk/join or sign up as a supporter to our Solidarity Squad at iwgb.org.uk/page/solidarity-squad
“I feel honoured to help lead this union and champion the voices of workers like me. It has been incredible watching the IWGB grow to encompass thousands of members and to have had so many victories to celebrate, even in these difficult times. As we continue to grow, I will work to make sure we keep hold of our strong democratic values, the diversity of our leadership and our courage to fight. That is what makes the IWGB special: the way we support each other, learn from each other and fight together against the forces that seek to divide us. Seeing this at work every day gives me hope for the future.”
Maritza Castillo Calle, IWGB Vice-President
“With the government waging war on trade unions and corporations taking advantage of the cost of living crisis to bring the boot down on workers, these are tough times. But the IWGB was forged in - and for - tough times. Our mission and our vision of a fierce and fighting trade union movement has never burned so bright. Instead of giving up, workers nationwide are rising in a groundswell to meet these threats head on. Whatever is thrown at us, we will continue to fight for our rights and for the better world we have to win.”
Alex Marshall, IWGB President
“I am so proud of all we have achieved over the past ten years and so grateful for the dedication of our staff and supporters, the courage of our members and the leadership of our elected representatives who have made it all possible. I was nineteen when I emigrated to the UK from Ecuador. Twenty years later, now leading the union I once joined as a migrant worker, the most important thing I have learned is that we must take our liberation into our own hands. The chance to do that is what the IWGB offers every worker. To come together. To find our voice. To know that whatever comes, we will not face it alone and that while we refuse to accept defeat, everything is possible.”
Henry Chango-Lopez, IWGB General Secretary