Buchannan Street, Glasgow Buchannan Street, Glasgow. Photo: user:kilnburn / Wikimedia Commons

Determined unionisation and a strike in one cafe is encouraging unionisation in other venues across the city, reports Sophie Johnson

An historic strike has taken place this weekend in Glasgow city centre. The first strike action by bar staff in Scotland for over two decades. Unite hospitality staff at the 13th Note are leading the way for other hospitality workers in the city.

Amidst an ongoing cost-of-living crisis and sky-high rents, disputes have been bubbling in other popular Glasgow venues, many known as arts and music hubs and for vegan friendly menus. The 13th note staff have had enough and, having staged the first of four planned 48-hour weekend strikes, are at the vanguard of a new layer of trade unionists emerging in the city.

The workers are out to demand the real living wage, fairer contracts, safe working conditions and union recognition which, despite 95% of the workforce being represented by Unite the Union, the boss is still refusing to recognise.

The dispute has been ongoing for several months and so far, staff have won incremental victories, including the raising of lowest-paid staff to the national minimum wage (for 23+) and, after the premises were shut down by environmental inspectors last month, some minor improvements to the dangerous and unsanitary conditions under which they’ve been working.

Strategic considerations

Up until now, the staff have fought back with various innovative tactics short of a strike and have received widespread support across the city’s arts and music scene including an open letter signed by Paulo Nutini, the Twilight Sad and other musicians urging the boss to ‘cooperate with their workers’. However, strategic issues are having to be navigated: a recent work stoppage by IWW members working at Saramago Cafe situated in the Centre of Contemporary Arts (CCA), also in the city centre, resulted in three workers being fired and, following widespread outrage and protests outside the venue, the CCA cut ties with the cafe leading to its closure and job losses.

Striking worker Liam said: “It’s quite tricky getting this far, because we identified that all this publicity is bad for business so we’re really putting ourselves on the line. I’m one of the engineers here so there’s been a boycott … It’s been quite difficult.”

Contradictory support

On its website, the 13th Note stresses ‘ethically sourced and free from animal cruelty’ food and the ‘fair’ practices they use to ‘support’ bands. But these claims don’t extend to employer-worker relations. On the other hand, support has been strong amongst those who usually use the venue.

Kitchen worker Nick, who is the workplace union rep, also commented on the support from regulars:

“There’s a contradiction there that we can use to our advantage, because people who are vegan are maybe more socially conscious so our venue’s been dead for two or three months now because people know what’s been going on.”

“But for owners of these sorts of venues, veganism is often just a market, it’s not a cause, they see an opportunity to make money … To these people, they’re not people of principle, they’re solely motivated by greed. We’ve seen that by the way we’ve been treated. Disputes like this could be over and done with in one week, but if management does not respect us, does not view us as human beings, but as cogs in a machine to make money, it would be their own arrogance and stubbornness that would get them to this point.”

Solidarity for the strikers has not only come from customers and musicians. The pickets were fairly young on both days, many of whom were also hospitality workers, however, a number of workers in other unions and industries including retail workers and retired teachers and engineers also showed up to lend their support.

“Bullied by the Union”

Typical of our times, hostile bosses and managers have been adopting the language of victimhood, citing mental health and intimidation to divert from their failure to respect basic workers’ rights.


“Concerns about mental health were never important when people were getting paid £6.80 an hour or when staff were getting assaulted in the venue because we had no security, or when people’s hours were fluctuating from 25 hours one week to 10 the next.”

Leading the way

Clearly, hospitality workers are amongst those most likely to be working on insecure contracts, receiving poverty pay and working extreme hours, their labour squeezed for profit in a failing economy. But the vast majority of hospitality workers are unlikely to be unionised.


“That’s another thing, hospitality workers are so browbeaten by the industry a lot of people don’t value themselves, don’t value their time, don’t value their labour, don’t value just how intrinsic we are to everything in this city.”

But things are starting to change, undoubtedly bolstered by the action taken by workers like those at the 13th Note, trade-union density in the sector is at the highest it’s ever been this century.

“We’ve had lots of people telling us they’ve been joining a union because of us.”

“We’ve heard another popular vegan restaurant in the city centre has unionised because of us, (their thoughts being) if they’re doing it why not us?”

The workers’ action has now forced their employer into negotiations. The 13th Note workers are determined and resolute.

(Me): “Are you going to win?” (Nick and Liam): “YES!

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