Colin Hampton of Unite supported the community of Shirebrook to come together after the closure of their colliery in the 1980s. Thirty-five years on he’s doing it again as they stand up to Sports Direct which now occupies the old site. He tells us about the how the union and the community got behind a very different issue than the one they faced together before.
Why did Unite get involved with this campaign?
“We had heard horror stories about the treatment of workers at this workplace, even famously a woman gave birth in the toilets. The nature of the employment here is agency work and zero hours contracts. The problem is that if you are seen as a troublemaker or someone who’s going to raise problems then you might not be working next week.”
How did you engage with and organise the workers?
“How do you organise a marginal workforce, many of whom can’t speak the language and are frightened for their jobs? This campaign became a model for how to get involved. We ran ESOL – English as a Second Language – courses in a neutral venue in the community to help them fit into the community better and so we could find out what the issues were and gain the confidence of the workers in order to be able to organise. “
How did the wider community get involved?
“This campaign is really interesting because it’s the community itself that’s come out to support the workers over a long period of time. Young and old, everyone’s been involved and it’s had an effect.”
“Workers were literally being worked to death. The Union were able to utilise the media to raise the issues of working practices and that’s why the community got involved; they were genuinely concerned.“
“It’s been an incremental approach that’s not just taken place locally but right throughout the country, at football grounds, outside stores and that’s really down to the community involvement in the campaign.”
You used some really creative campaigning actions, tell us more.
“We have tried to be innovative in order to reach public opinion outside the normal trade union circumstances. We’ve had flash mobs, we had Dick Turpin riding through the streets to raise the fact that there was daylight robbery taking place. We tried to involve everyone in the area in this campaign, we’ve allowed people to choose how they want to make their feelings known.”