Increasing numbers of workers are being pushed into roles as “independent contractors” rather than being hired as employees. As employees, workers can ‘enjoy’ what little legal protection is available to them, such as minimum wages, laws against unfair dismissal ordiscrimiination, and so on. As independent contractors – essentially, individuals hired as outsourced businesses to play the role of employees – they do not have access to these legal protections.

Just as concerning is the fact that, as small businesses, contractors are unable to organise together as a single body of workers under a single employer. Terms and conditions are individually-negotiated and employers are often able to ride roughshod over them. However, as London IWW members are proving, these trends can be challenged and beaten.

Sarah was a checkout assistant at an amusement park in London staffed almost exclusively by independent contractors such as herself. When she was conned out of an amount of till money by a confidence trickster, she did what any good worker would do – immediately raise the alarm, and contact the police to catch the assailant and recover the money.

A bungled Police investigation, however, resulted in the money not being recovered, despite the thief being caught. In response to this, management decided to dock the stolen sum from Sarah’s next pay packet, even though the money could have been recovered from the company’s insurance.

As an IWW member she was able to rally the branch to come down on this joker like a ton of bricks. Pickets were planned, and the branch was poised to take action. However, knowing that he had been docking pay from many other workers, and knowing the union was hot on his tail, the boss caved before any action was taken by the union and coughed up the cash. Job done!

Sarah’s story is not the only one, and the IWW has been helping independent contractors in various forms win a better life for the last hundred years. Nowadays it appears that the cowboys exploiting young, inexperienced workers hired as independent contractors aren’t as untouchable as they seem. Branch activist Gavin noted that “it’s times like these when you realise how important unions are. Relying on dodgy anti-worker laws or the good will of companies is no substitute for workers’ solidarity and the will to win”.

The IWW welcomes freelancers and independent contractors from all industries, provided that they do not employ others. We encourage all types of workers to join and build a brighter future for working class people everywhere.