Brighton SolFed Housing Union: New ways of working together and fighting back

Two years into the Brighton Solidarity Federation Housing Union, we've had another busy year of working collectively to push back against the city's continuing housing crisis. In this article, we look back on actions and initiatives from the last 12 months and consider our attempts to maintain the momentum of 2017-18 by adopting different strategies and taking on different cases.

One of our members has successfully fought for a council house!

Some of you may remember Patrick, who has been organising with us for the past 18 months to try and improve his living conditions. Patrick's dispute started when his letting agency, Youngs, refused to do basic repair works on his seriously dilapidated flat. In January 2018, shortly after requesting these works, Patrick was served with an eviction notice by his landlord, Stephen Mitchell.

Patrick successfully fought this eviction in court. In the meantime, we also pursued the council to serve an improvement notice on Mitchell, in order to legally compel him to carry out these works. Undeterred by the first failed eviction attempt, Mitchell tried again, this time with the help of a solicitor. Under much pressure, the council served an improvement notice on Mitchell, which should have invalidated the second eviction notice.

CJ Barbers owners smash up chair and attack picket line

[CN for assault]

 

On Thursday 20th June, we staged a picket outside of CJ Barbers in Kemptown as part of our ongoing campaign demanding over two months unpaid wages for a former worker. In response to this, the owners of CJ Barbers, Hamid Caram and Cyrus Shabini smashed up a chair and attacked the picket line.

This was a significant escalation of a now familiar tactic of CJ Barbers, which is to assault and attempt to intimidate picket lines. On the Saturday previous to this, Hamid assaulted a female member of Brighton SolFed who was outside of the shop.

CJ Barbers: intimidation and histrionics fail to impress

CJ Barbers yet again resorted to violence against union members on Thursday as our campaign to get our member’s unpaid wages back continues.

In a remarkable demonstration of aggression, the owner Hamid Karam and the manager Cyrus Shabani smashed up their own wooden chairs in the middle of the road, wielded the remains at picketers, pushed and hit multiple people, and choked one member before throwing him across the street in front of traffic. They also snatched members’ phones out of their hands as they were filming the disgusting behaviour, smashing one phone in the process.

'I was desperate for work, desperate to find a stable career and trade I could rely on': the CJ Barbers worker tells his story

I am writing this to dispel a great deal of misinformation spread about me and my public campaign against CJ Barbers. I am the worker who was exploited by CJ Barbers and I understand why local businesses are coming out in support of their neighbours. I believe this comes from a positive place but I think you should know my side of the story before you come to any conclusions.

'I train people for free because that's how it works': CJ Barbers owner Cyrus Shabani admits to not paying worker

'I train people for free because that's how it works': CJ Barbers owner Cyrus Shabani admits to not paying worker

In this video, the owner of CJ Barbers, Cyrus Shabani, admits to not paying a worker who worked for him for two months, claiming 'that's how it works'. As we have pointed out to CJ Barbers multiple times, that is not how it works. This worker's employment did not meet the standards of an apprenticeship (for which he still should have been paid), so he is owed at least the national minimum wage for the two month's work he has done. That's what we are demanding, and that's what we will continue to fight for until CJ Barbers pay up.

More info on this dispute:

CJ Barbers Dispute: Business Threatens to Blacklist SolFed Member

As our dispute with CJ Barbers, which owes one of our members two months in unpaid wages, continues, and the owners still refuse to negotiate (we emailed them on May 4th, offering negotiations: they didn't reply), the son of one of the owners is publicly saying that they intend to illegally send images and personal details of the worker to “every business in Brighton”.

Kevin Karam, the son of Hamid Karam, has made multiple long and rambling posts about us on Facebook, calling SolFed a “gang”, making wildly contradictory statements about the worker’s status at CJ Barbers, referring to SolFed in general as a “bunch of benefit losers”, etc. It's nothing particularly remarkable - the usual smear campaigns that bosses and their friends try when they are backed into a corner.

Education Workers

Working conditions in educational institutions are becoming more and more difficult. This is often linked to managers making cuts, establishing austerity measures, or asking all workers to do more for less.  We currently organise as a network of workers at University of Brighton, and have links to other educational institutions.

We aim to organise to improve these conditions on a day-to-day basis, trying to fight winnable disputes for caretakers, cleaners and hourly-paid lecturers alike. To resist the ways that these institutions are attacking the working conditions of all staff means working together, not establishing boundaries between academic and non-academic staff.

Eastbourne tenant wins back £100 by challenging deposit deductions

A tenant in Eastbourne has won back £100 by challenging deductions to his deposit. The tenant’s landlord was attempting to make various deductions for replacement items that had been subject to fair wear and tear.

The tenant contacted Brighton SolFed for advice on what he could do in this situation, given that he had already moved out and was unable to gather his own evidence. After some brief discussion about the different ways that deposit theft can be challenged – such as by checking whether your landlord has correctly protected the deposit, and challenging your landlord to produce invoices for items that they allege needed replacing – the tenant opened correspondence with the landlord about the deductions. The landlord immediately agreed to return £100, which the tenant was happy to accept.

No Work Without Pay: Boycott CJ Barbers!

Brighton SolFed has started a public campaign against CJ Barbers, who owe one of our members over two months in unpaid wages. The worker was employed as an "apprentice" for no wages, with the promise of paid work after two months. Unfortunately, this kind of practice is common in the barbering industry in Brighton, so the worker decided to go along with it. After the two months were up, CJ Barbers paid him...£50 a week, for full time work! The worker left two weeks later.

During this so-called “apprenticeship” the worker was given no contract, no opportunity to work towards any qualification, and worked full time hours. This therefore does not meet the legal requirement of an  apprenticeship, which is why we are demanding that CJ Barbers pays our member the full legal minimum wage, holiday pay, and pension contributions for the hours he worked, which total £2821.63.

Worker Fights Back Against Wage Theft

A worker organising with Brighton Solidarity Federation has won a dispute with their seafront employer, the Harbour Hotel. The worker was employed over the Christmas period in the kitchen of the hotel. In the space of one month, the worker was not paid for 3 days worked, did not receive a contracted gratuities (tips and a bonus) payment and did not receive any holidays. These totaled up to over £1000 - quite an amount for just over a month's work.

Wage theft in the hospitality sector in Brighton is rife, and missing holiday entitlement is particularly common. Holiday entitlement starts accruing from the moment you start work and there are useful calculators online that can work out if you are owed any: https://www.gov.uk/calculate-your-holiday-entitlement.

Tenant Successfully Fights £200 Deposit Theft

Brighton Solidarity Federation recently assisted a tenant whose letting agent, Ashton Burkinshaw, were attempting to make unreasonable deductions from their deposit. We were contacted by the tenant after their letting agent tried to deduct nearly £200 for unnecessary (maybe never done) work. We advised the tenant what their rights were and helped them use one of our template letters to send to their agent. The agent could not provide an invoice for the work and had to back down.

Every person who has rented a home has experienced their letting agent trying to steal part or all of their deposit. There are many ways to fight back and sometimes the most effective one is also the simplest.

Brighton SolFed Campaign Against the Sidewinder Concludes with Management Quitting the Pub

Brighton SolFed recently entered into a public dispute with the Sidewinder to get them to pay compensation for the unfair dismissal of one of their workers. The worker was dismissed for calling in sick once after having worked at the pub for about nine months.

 

The pressure on the Sidewinder has been rising steadily over the passed few weeks as the frequency of our pickets increased. With result! Although the Sidewinder still refuses to pay compensation, they did pay up the unpaid holiday pay, and the management has let us know they have handed in their notice.

 

Organising with Brighton SolFed

Brighton SolFed's statement on solidarity in the struggle

This information has been put together for groups who may be interested in affiliating to or organising with us. We regularly work with other groups. However, before formally working together, we actively check how safely a group organises and their connections to known-abusers, as a pre-condition.

Inclusion
SolFed welcomes working class people of all education backgrounds, genders, sexuality, ethnicity, race, immigration status and those with all forms of accessibility needs*; (other than people barred by our constitution).

G4Lets: one group of tenants reclaim £1000 stolen from their deposit, whilst another receives a rent reduction for poor quality accommodation

Since September 2018, we have been organising with two different groups of tenants – one who had their deposit stolen by G4Lets, and one living in accommodation in a serious state of disrepair. We’re pleased to report that both of these situations concluded well, with the first group of tenants receiving £1000 back from their stolen deposit, and the second group receiving a rent reduction for the poor quality of their accommodation, and with the works being carried out. Below is the story of these two disputes, particularly how they relate to our previous disputes with G4Lets and the tactics we used in these two most recent disputes.

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We are an anarcho-syndicalist union based in Brighton. We have ongoing campaigns in Hospitality and in Health & social care, but we aim to organise with workers of all industries and none. We also have a very active housing union.

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