In late July news surfaced of an immigration ‘sting’ that caused widespread outrage. The Byron Hamburgers chain is owned by the private equity fund, Hutton Collins Partners. Earlier in the month they summoned a large number of their migrant worker staff members to special ‘training’ sessions across 15 Byron restaurants in London. When the workers arrived, immigration police were waiting for them. It is estimated that at least 35 workers were detained. 25 or more of them were then deported. A further 150 managed to avoid detention and are believed to be in hiding.
A member of London IWW’s General Members Branch was working for Byron at the time and was interrogated but not detained. That person was able to report what happened to the branch and also assist numerous national media outlets with an insider’s view of what happened.
In response London IWW called a protest for Friday 29th July at the St Giles High Street branch of Byron, timed to coincide with other actions around the country – particularly Manchester IWW’s protest. Around 40 people came along, including from Unite’s Hotel Workers branch and others. We attracted strong interest and support, distributed lots of flyers, talked to many passersby and restaurant users, and sang Solidarity Forever.
Our message was loud and clear:
1) No more threats to staff members using the UKBA.
2) No discrimination against migrant staff members.
3) No to exploitative pay and conditions.
As a result news media started beating a path to our door:
The following Monday the Unite Hotel Workers branch organized another and larger protest, this time outside Byron’s Holborn branch. London IWW also co-hosted this event in conjunction with the United Voices of the World union, London Latinxs, Black Dissidents, Anti-Raids Network, Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants, South London Solfed, War On Want and Global Justice Now. This time we had a specially made banner denouncing Byron and the UKBA, in addition to our flags.
Due to the event being much flagged up in the media, the restaurant was closed by the time we arrived. Demonstrators were penned into a narrow stretch of pavement in front of Byron by metal barriers, police and massed photographers and film crews. Once again, outrage was expressed and Byron got exactly the kind of publicity it didn’t want.
We hope this reaction helps to deter other employers from treating their workers in the way Byron has. Media coverage was massive and included mention of, and interviews with, the IWW. We hope this assists us in recruiting more members in the food and hospitality sector.
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