08, More lightning strikes

After this strike we remained quiet for a time; meanwhile the managements of other catering firms were altering their attitude to their staffs. They were less tyrannical, more smiling, more human, giving them more time off, a little better food etc. Of course, their object was plain to our members. They tried to draw, to pump syndicate secrets from the staff. Some members were plainly asked if they belonged to the union. Various tricks were tried to get some one to betray themselves and the syndicate. The manager of one of the big hotels got so energetic in these methods that the staff told the committee to arrange a meeting for action before it was too late. A week passed, plans were complete. There was not a traitor on the staff. Yet this manager had hidden in the hotel a force of police and a gang of loyal British waiters.

However, this evening the hotel had besides the usual table d’hote dinner, several Masonic diners, company directors’ dinners, etc. The manager looked worried. Various dinners started at various times, so the syndicate could wait its chance. And this is how it happened. Table d’hote at 6,30, another commenced at 6,45, another at 7 p.m., and so on. At 7,15 all dinners were being served with something, when suddenly a waiter clapped his hands and every member of the staff stopped work. The waiter looked for the manager. The poor man was nearly mad – he rushed up and down, but the waiter handed him our demands, exactly as on the last occasion. He refused, he hesitated, he read, he signed. The hidden police were told it was all over. “What the hell have we been kept here for?” they asked. The loyal blacklegs were hooted off the premises. And so another victory for direct action was won.

What a sensation this caused! All the press of the catering employers were louder than ever in demanding that Parliament step in and stop this un-British thing at once. Now we had to move fast, in case they did try to stop us. The managers did not know when or where the next strike would take place. Some managements gradually sacked some waiters, and employed loyal British waiters, but as they could not speak Continental tongues, they were not much use, so they sacked some kitchen staff, but still not syndicate members. The managers, however, being ignorant of this, were blissfully happy, when suddenly, in various parts of the West End, three, four and five strikes were called simultaneously. Not all of these were so quickly successful. Many interesting incidents could be related, but just a few of these have we space for, such as: A ‘loyal’ slave (loyal to his slavemaster only) as seriously taking a great carving-table followed by another waiter with a similar dish. When the covers were taken off, there in all its natural beauty lay a lovely large joint of raw beef. The second dish contained a pile of raw, dirty vegetables, so no dinner that night. Another incident. The cooks and all the kitchen staff were having the longest rest ever known in the kitchen, so they became hungry. “Well, what are we waiting for?” Everyone in the kitchen, the chef included, with all the pomp and ceremony of the great, seriously began. Hors d’oeuvres, soup, fish, entrees, joint and veg, sweet, coffee, liqueurs, cigarettes, all this was taken slowly, about one hour, then they were told by the manager to serve the dinner. Too late. There was no dinner to serve, the strike was on, and it was now past 9 p.m., time to go home.

Another amusing incident was carried out by the kitchen clerk, who writes out and orders all supplies. He placed the butcher’s order in the greengrocer’s envelope, and so on, so by the time the strike was called the telephone was busy with tradesmen asking what they wanted. It was only then that the manager found out there was nothing in the kitchen. Poor man! He spluttered, swore, threatened to strike the chef, stamped and raved. After this he signed.

There are just a few incidents that took place during these lightning strikes in the catering trade which numbered thirty-eight in all in the West End of London, and all successful. But it took a long time to fight all these battles, bringing us to 1914. During these years the organised workers of all other trades had been following our activities, our methods, our success, with envy and admiration. They admitted that it took courage to act as we did. But to the TU leaders we were everything vile. They slandered us because they were afraid they would lose their easy positions. It was natural they should hate the Syndicate. Its principle was an understanding and operation of the Class Struggle, while the TU leaders were bribed by the boss to keep the worker in slavery. Britain declared war on Germany in August 1914, and with that ended the greatest revolutionary class-conscious union Britain had ever known. Germans and Austrians were interned, French and Italians of military age were sent to their own countries, British of course were conscripted later. With that ended the greatest class conscious union Britain had ever known.

But for the world war of 1914-18, the workers of all trades would surely have spurred on by the spirit, courage and class-conscious direct action of the syndicate, and realised that all leaders lead to destruction. They had to free themselves. No other class or body would do it for them, but only betray them. The syndicate would have carried out the light of truth. Soon the whole working class would have seen it burning strong and clear. Then after a stern, bitter struggle, with workers knowing their own strength, would have come the end of all slavery.

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