Talk - Listen - Collectivise
I want to tell you more. The other conversations I had, the follow-ups, the mystery chef, the Polish supervisor who felt so humiliated by her work that she'd stopped telling her friends and family back home what she was doing, still cleaning, still below the London Living Wage, five years on..
More about sitting alone in the canteen and withdrawing, feeling the silence and isolation and being too exhausted to speak.
Falling asleep out with friends at pub tables. Turbo coffee in the morning followed by too much sugar....How hand cream is vital, how you can never change any bedsheets or clean anything at home without having flashbacks of what you've been doing over a dozen times a day and slipping into automatic...getting thin..getting out of touch with news..unable to read...sleeping on the tube...backache....dreaming about getting out of this...
I know how to organise. But it's difficult. There are some easy aspects to remember though, for all of you reading this and wanting to change your situation at work.
Organising is about relationships. Organising is about building trust. Organising requires patience and perseverance. Get used to failure. But prepare for success. And the need for movement-building and solidarity outside the workplace.
But above all, the first steps are this:
Talk – You need to talk to people. You need to break the ice, break the isolation. There is a misguided view that we can organise through social media. Social media is an amplifier rather than an instigator. Most of us, as we know, are not on twitter! It's a privileged medium for those with smartphones and the time to look at them. I know we don't when we're rushing all over rooms, often with no reception or wifi. To be 'plugged in' to that speed-network, you need the time and tools to scan it, work it and benefit from it. You can strike up a conversation at reception (carefully), in the kitchen, on break, in the smoking area, in the locker room, in the lift. Anywhere you have time to see each other. Share a tea. Tea is one of the greatest social lubricants of all time! Revolutions are plotted over cuppas...
Listen – This is the big one. The most important part of any organising. After striking up conversations, we need to listen to what people have to say. It's common to want to vent, to go on and fill silence, but, we need to hear from people. We know it's rare for us to really share our feelings and our ideas about work and whether we can change our situation. But that process starts with hearing each other out. How are we doing?....And remember what people tell you, remember it because you'll hear the same issues from many different people and we need to recognise and reflect what we've got in common.
Collectivise – Nine times out of ten if you're feeling it, someone else is too. If it's your problem, it's a shared problem. The same problems repeat themselves, because they are un-addressed, because they are products of exploitation and oppressive behaviour, and unresolved they soon become systemic and structural and cultural. Like bullying, stress, pressure, low pay, self-cut as well as management cut breaks, unpaid overtime. These unfair conditions become normalised. 'That's just how it is' we tell ourselves and the intensity of our work exhausts and isolates us. 'It'll never change' we think.
But it can. And it does (remember New York). Especially when we work for some of the wealthiest, most profitable and constant companies in the world. They need us. Remember that. We make their money. We make the operation tick over. It's common for people to focus on their own individual issues and problems because our dominant culture teaches us we're alone. Mass individualism means we've lost the ability to think and act and take decisions collectively. We need to re-learn collective action but it is natural, co-operation is the cornerstone of society, and contrary to Thatcher's assertion that there is no such thing as society, only the individual, we are social. Take a problem it, share it. Got an individual grievance? Collectivise it. See and feel that you're in it together. Act together. Support each other. Stick together. That's a union.
So, as I keep on cleaning, agitating, and organising (: I want to give this space over to other people, working for the same hotel, as well as in the same hotel chain, in Housekeeping as well as other departments to take up their voice.
This 'aint my last word. I'm stepping back to let my colleagues step in. Stay with us. We're stepping it up....