07, Direct Action

Such were the economic and industrial conditions in London and Britain in general.

The syndicate stepped in to add to the difficulties of the Government and its ruling class. I shall never forget the scene in our basement hall where the committee, with the kitchen staff and some waiters, had sat in conference from 12 p.m. till 3 a.m., planning action. No other member of the Syndicate or the Waiters’ Union knew anything about this secret meeting of the staff of one of London’s West End hotels. Everyone had serious, even white faces, but with looks of determination. All present were practically bound by their oath to be loyal to the syndicate and to themselves.

Not one word must be uttered about our plans. At this memorable meeting members left in ones and twos as they had come. The next day at 7 p.m. would decide failure or success for the syndicate.

The staff went to work in the morning, lunch was prepared, lunch was served, the usual row, the usual bad language, jokes, but not a word, not a sign, not one traitor. The manager still walked about with the air of a God Almighty, looking for someone to bully or sack. Lunch was over, 3 o’clock had come, and we were free for two hours. We passed over out of the hotel by the staff entrance. Still no word, no sign, no traitor. At five o’clock the kitchen staff prepared the table d’hotes, 6 o’clock the waiters returned to prepare the tables, everything was as usual. The manager still looked vicious, still looked for trouble. He got it – at 7 p.m.

Five minutes before 6,30 the dinner gong sounded, calling all the well-fed parasitical guests to ‘dine’. They took their seats, ushered by smiling, bowing waiters, who were treated with contempt by the guests. 6,30 p.m. Hors d’oeuvres were served, then soup, then fish. The entree arrived and that was the lot. 7 p.m. A stranger walked into the dining room, he wiped his forehead with a white handkerchief – the signal agreed upon at the secret meeting. Waiters stood like statues, except one or two. The kitchen got the ‘wire’ and everyone stopped work at once. Some sat down, out came pipes and cigarettes, a terrible offence in all kitchens. Kitchen porters, women and boys, looked at the guests’ lovely sweets – the cooks said, “Help yourselves”, and soon all the pastry had vanished. Meanwhile, what a scene in the dining room! The waiters, who were just dirt beneath the notice of these important guests, suddenly realised it was the cooks and the waiters who were now important. The head waiter and manager were dumbfounded – and could not believe their own eyes. These docile, servile slaves dared to do this thing! Send for the chef, send for the police, the hotel will be disgraced, ruined! No – stop – he cannot send for the police, his guests will have to be served with the rest of their dinner! The guests are calling for the head waiter, for God, the devil, anyone who will serve them!

Never before had the sacred dining room seen such a sight in all its long history. Guests forgot, being only half-fed, that they were gentlemen, and even began swearing. They began to leave the hotel, but had to find their own hats and coats, call their own cabs or carriages. This reminded me of other hungry, angry men on London’s streets a short time previously, but these were batoned. They had not these ‘gentlemen’s‘ sympathy or help. Perhaps these important guests understood a little now of what hunger really meant!

The noise and confusion died down, except for a cook playing a mouth-organ in the kitchen, the staff meanwhile dancing. All was now seemingly quiet. The manager had been told to see our union representative. “Union,” he shouted. “I’ll have no union in this hotel!” But he did. “I’ll throw the lot of you out now.” But he did not. He signed the first agreement ever made between catering slaves and their masters. And there was no time limit to these changes. All must be permanent. Or – well, he knew.

What were the changes signed for? Now the reader must remember both the Syndicate and the Waiters’ Union were built up on class principles. We must hit the boss, the director, the shareholder, where he would feel it most. The changes demanded were in our opinion only a beginning of the end of profit-making catering firms. Our ultimate objective was the owning and controlling of all catering firms for the benefit of the workers and not for the benefit of a few idle parasites. Meanwhile we had to prove to our members, to the rest of the catering workers not in the union, and to the workers of all other trades that we could and would hit the master-class where he would feel it, and cry out the most about his rent, interest and profit.

Our demands and their aims were:

1. Abolition of all slave-drivers. This would stop head waiters, managers, chefs etc. from tyranny

2. Abolition of tronc system and all forms of tipping. This would hit the owner etc. in their pockets. They would now have to pay wages.

3. Abolition of staff meals. This would compel good wholesome food for all staff.

4. TU rates of wages for all grades of workers. This would affect profits, strengthen the syndicate and make the staff more class conscious.

5. Abolition of petty fines for breakages, lateness to work etc. This also decreased profits, as every week large sums were stopped from wages and added to income.

6. First aid help and a medical man if possible to be on or near the hotel in case of need. Accidents were frequent but nothing was ever done (except by the staff). Now it would mean the employer’s expense.

7. As all staff were human beings, all were workers, no one must think or treat the other as dirt beneath them. This was aimed at the management, office staff, head waiters, head porters, head chambermaid etc.

8. A clean, airy and dry dressing-room, both for male and female staff. This was aimed at the cooks’ cubicle with sweating pipes. Other staff had no dressing rooms before this action.

9. Clean dining room and rest-rooms for kitchen and waiters, other rooms for female staff. This stopped porters having to sit on baskets with their meals on their laps.

10. All staff required to be obtained from the Syndicate and the Waiters’ Union. This hit the sharks of the hotel agencies, and stopped chefs’ and managers’ surplus incomes.

11. No member of staff to be discharged before proof of the charge was given to the Syndicate. This stopped favouritism, persecution, petty dislike and jealousy.

12. An eight-hour day, one day off duty a week, one week’s holiday a year, all holidays paid for. This was the last demand, a very important one.

All these demands after a lot of excited and dramatic opposition, in just over one hour. There was no more work that day. The whole staff, after singing, eating, drinking, laughing, formed up outside the staff entrance and marched to the syndicate’s hall. In the hall a small band was playing workers’ songs, then came speeches. This was kept up till past 12 midnight. So ended, as one speaker said, the first round of our war on capitalism and its profits.

Next day the papers were full of the lightning strike. The scene outside and inside our office was beyond description. Members, the public, the police, absolutely filled Little Newport Street, and traffic had to be diverted for hours. Then later, managers wrote to the Press demanding that this outrageous gang be at once suppressed. TU leaders shrieked out their hatred. It should be illegal to act in this cowardly way, they said. They utterly disowned us and all our works. Much of this kind of thing came from these ‘respectable’ TU leaders because they were afraid their members might copy our methods of direct action and accomplish in one hour what they paid TU officials to do for years, and ultimately come out on strike. Some already were asking, “What was the good of their well-paid officials?” So they talked among themselves, but the leaders still kept them in order. There were a few unofficial strikes as a result of direct action, but the leaders soon got them back to work, as no strike pay was forthcoming, so the TU officials breathed again, but they still went on attacking the syndicate. We took no notice. Then they demanded legislation by Parliament to outlaw the syndicate. Still we ignored all these attacks, concerning ourselves only with our own activities.

What a transformation in the hotel where action was taken! Everyone was getting good food, tyranny had ceased, every demand as being carried out to the full, the staff began to look a bit healthy, were more comradely than ever, quarrels stopped. The workers know THEY, not Governments or TU officials, must end tyranny.

We – that is, mainly members of the syndicate – studied the works of Kropotkin, Bakunin, William Morris, we had meetings among the Southwark unemployed. George Swassey told of the direct action of the US workers in the IWW, and slowly and surely a great mass organisation of direct actionists was spreading over London. Adolph Beck, the German chairman of the syndicate and many others were speaking all over London to the workers, employed and unemployed. So now, as the reader will have learned, I found the answers to all my childhood questions.

It was just about this time that various Anarchist groups were formed in many parts of London with their paper Freedom, edited by Tom Keel. Many times I went to The Grove, Hammersmith, and Willesden, to speak and to learn. I knew governments exist by force in the interest of the ruling class. Freedom is the only thing worth fighting for, all else is illusion.

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Also available at http://libcom.org/history/dare-be-daniel-wilf-mccartney