The Socialist March 10, 2021 |
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Goodlord Picket Line March 8, photo James Ivens (Click to enlarge)
Tenants referencing workers at tech company Goodlord, organized by general union Unite, are on full strike against the “ fired and rehired ” pay cuts. Forward Athena Parnell spoke to James Ivens of the Socialist Party of East London about the issues facing tech workers and all workers fighting back.
What is Goodlord? What are you doing?
Goodlord is a technology company, a platform for rental agents. They also offer referral services to verify potential tenants and insurance for rental agents. I work in the SEO team.
What does the strike require?
The London Living Wage – ideally for everyone, but at least for everyone in London. And permanent contracts.
How did the leadership bring it about?
Until I arrived in March, most SEO workers were employed by a temp agency. I was part of the first batch hired on a fixed-term contract, for six months.
We live in London and were hired because the office is in London. We have been told that because we are dealing with confidential information, we have to work from the office. When the first lockdown began, our group was the last to be allowed out of the office.
In July, a group of us got together and asked management for a conversation. These jobs are not unskilled. They require a training of two or three months.
So we felt that we had something to offer them as workers; we wanted them to offer us permanent contracts. Because of the pandemic, we were afraid that after six months we would lose our jobs.
They brutally refused to tell us about it. It broke the hearts of a lot of people. The company pushes the propaganda that we are a “family”; We love ourselves’; free beer – you know what I mean. They pretend to be a start-up to avoid giving us normal conditions and salaries.
We were told that there would be a restructuring in the department. A consulting firm was hired to make the SEO service more “viable” for the business. Our contracts have been extended until the end of January.
We haven’t heard from the consulting company. Then management gave us a big announcement at the end of October.
A day before our big announcement, the company announced that there are many leadership positions that are being promoted or more money. So we were very excited!
What was the big announcement?
They announced an offer of indefinite contracts – with a 25% pay cut. I’m over £ 24,000; they want to reduce my salary to £ 18,000.
They said that since the work can now be done from home, they will no longer be paying London’s living wage. It absolutely drove us crazy. Every person there lives in London.
I accepted a contract extension until the end of April. The company offered us a week’s pay if we left.
What did you expect?
There is no hierarchy in our department. No seniors, no tracks. Everyone is responsible for training.
Logically, we expected a restructuring to be a restructuring – assignment of responsibilities. It turned out that they were just pay cuts.
How did you react?
At that point, we wrote a letter to the company, from almost everyone in the SEO department. We have asked for a collective consultation. Listen to us. Let’s just be a little more logical about the options.
They absolutely refused. There could be an individual consultation, but not a collective consultation.
My colleagues tell me that one of the managers said, “we don’t have to negotiate with you collectively, it’s not like you’re in a union”. It was then that some of us organized to join the union.
How did you organize yourself?
It’s quite difficult to organize during the lockdown. We invited people to have personal conversations through Zoom and WhatsApp. We had a group that worked together.
In mid-November some of us were contacting colleagues, some of us were writing letters and some of us were going to unions. The response from Unite the Union has been overwhelmingly positive, which is why we have all decided to join Unite.
Unite said it was good to have written the collective letter and tried to negotiate first. Management couldn’t say that we hadn’t tried to act reasonably.
We got the union’s help on the next legal steps and filed a collective grievance and at the same time we discussed the launch of the vote for industrial action. The procedure can take a long time and we have been assured that we can cancel it at any time.
Our grievance and letters were simply ignored until the notice of vote reached the company.
By the time they decided to hear our grievance, it was in January and we had voted for industrial action. Then the talks finally began. We even postponed the strike hoping for a resolution. They did not offer any.
Did you reach other departments?
Other company workers joined Unite. But it’s a challenge not being able to talk to people in person.
Society as a whole didn’t know much beyond what management told them. At this age, when people are working from home, management can more easily control the narrative. We have started sending emails informing our colleagues of certain things.
I would say you have to do whatever you can to reach people personally. Management has the resources to promote its agenda at every meeting, at every individual meeting.
I think people need to feel the personal touch, something genuine. This problem is not just about paper. There are real people involved whose lives are affected tremendously.
A single mother has already had to give up this job. She left in January because she could not take care of her child with this salary.
I think you have to find a way, through social media or whatever, to share these stories. As individual employees, you can suffer repercussions for speaking out on the company on social media – so this is also where the union comes in.
What is the attitude of the management to your requests?
Absolutely negative. After declaring that we had joined the union, the management started attacking us in meetings.
There was a pretty bad “company-wide click” where management called us an “attack from within”. This has had a negative effect on people across the business, not just in the SEO department. So the following week the management backed off.
They created something called the “feedback group”. A separate meeting – for the whole department – excluding the union.
We had to vote for the representatives of this group. They clearly forged the votes; even those who had not joined the union still supported him. They use this group to pretend to listen.
The rest of the company benefits from three months maternity leave. SEO lasts six weeks. Management has increased maternity leave. We said: are you kidding? Why aren’t we already aligned with the rest of the business?
Management has granted the rest of the company unlimited vacation and sick leave during the pandemic. We had three days of sick leave. We have reduced that deadline to ten days.
This is a joke. They are not losing money. They told us that on average staff take 0.5 sick days per year. If that’s true, why didn’t you give us the same as the rest of the company?
At the “meeting” on the last day before our strike, they attacked the strike. They said something like “we have already had problems, but we will solve the problem as a team. It’s like a football game …” They appointed forwards, full backs … “We are going to score , we’re going to win this game! “
They asked questions. One of my wonderful colleagues told them, “We never took the strike lightly. We never wanted to come to this. To listen to you treating this situation like a game is horrible.” Then there was silence!
More and more workers in tech companies are organizing. Why do you think it is?
The tech industry is booming right now. The operation started from the start. It is an industry that needs unions and to stay together as much as possible in the future. We have to fight, for better wages and to be more appreciated.
I would even make a comparison between the industrial revolution and what has happened over the past 20 years. Especially since the recession, companies and those in power have taken advantage of us on the back.
Think about the pay gap between a programmer and someone who owns the business. Why is that?
I would like to reach out to the IT side, programmers and designers. How come you create all of these things when you can hardly buy your own?
How is it that there is a gigantic ravine between you selling your skills and the owners of the property? You have to stay together, from entry level to more experienced!
Over the past 20 years we’ve come to believe this bullshit that companies have to cut our wages for economic reasons. I think everyone in the tech industry could earn more.
What would you say to other workers facing “fire and rehire” tactics?
Unionise! Staying united and fighting for our rights is crucial at this time.
Other companies will use the pandemic in the same way as ours. They have already told us: “Do you work from home? So I pay you less!” You don’t have the right to decide what I spend my money on!
Anyone who sells their skills, and that’s how you make a living – we have to stand united to negotiate against those who own things.
Where you come from, wherever you go, whatever you do. We must stand united and strive for our skills to be appreciated.
That’s what Karl Marx said – and the Socialist Party agrees! So how can people support your strike?
We have a strike fund. We have had donations which is amazing and we really appreciate it.
But we would also appreciate it if people contact Goodlord and let them know what you think. They claim not to be, but they are proud of their reputation.
Supporting our picket lines would also be amazing.
Support the strike
- Messages of support to [email protected]
- Send complaints by email to [email protected]; tweet your complaints to @sogoodlord
- Donations from the strike fund to Unite LE / 7098L London ITC Branch, sort code 60-83-01, account 20303680, Goodlord reference