Goodlord striker speaks out: How we unionised and fought the bosses

by Scott Hunter, Goodlord Worker (personal capacity) and SP member

A section of workers at property services company Goodlord have been on indefinite strike since 22 February, and were sacked by the company on 19 May. The workers were striking against an imposed pay cut, and the company has now ignored the legal protection against dismissal for strikers in the 12 weeks after a ballot. One of the striking workers, Scott Hunter, who joined the Socialist Party during the dispute gives an overview of the struggle.

My colleagues and I were employed at a company called Goodlord (Oh Goodlord Limited). In organising terms, it was a non-traditional workplace: we were all young workers at a tech start-up, most of us using the work to support ourselves while we studied or pursued other careers.

Many of us, including myself, had an interest in left-wing politics — rising with the Corbyn movement — but little practical experience in workplace organising. Late 2020, in the middle of the pandemic, with another four years of Conservative government looming and a right-wing Labour leader, was an isolating and demoralising time.

Up until January 2021, my colleagues and I had been employed on rolling six-month fixed-term contracts, at or above the London Living Wage. In November 2020, the company announced that it would not be renewing our fixed-term contracts but, instead, offering permanent contracts at a significant pay reduction — a 20% loss on average.

The company also wanted to impose other, inferior, terms and conditions: cutting hours from 40 to 35 per week (so a net 35% reduction in pay with cuts to wages and hours), reducing our paid sick leave to just three days a year, and the introduction of mandatory shift work on evenings and weekends.

We were given just two weeks to sign the new contacts, or risk becoming unemployed once our fixed-term contracts expired in January. We were also given the option of a three-month extension to our existing contracts, taking us to March or April 2021 but, once again, after that we would be unemployed. And in the middle of possibly the largest recession ever the company knew that our options were limited.

Remote working

The company’s justification for these cuts was that, because we had been successfully working remotely since March 2020, these new contracts would be remote-only and, therefore, none of us needed to live in London, so the company would not pay a London Living Wage.

This behaviour should be a concern for anyone in a job that could be done remotely: with many office workers successfully working from home over the pandemic, employers are likely to use the success of workers against them. This is particularly concerning in under-unionised industries like the digital and technology sector.

Unfortunately, at first, we were caught on the back foot. We had no trade union in our workplace and, with many of us being young workers, we had little idea of the practical realities of union activity. My first step was to reach out to several colleagues who I knew would be sympathetic to the idea of an organised resistance.

From there, we began reaching out to more people until we had covered everyone affected. Stuck at home during lockdown, our major tool was WhatsApp and simple email lists. At the same time, we reached out to several trade unions for advice.

Our first action was to compose a letter to management and deliver it collectively. This letter appealed to management on an emotional basis, not yet revealing the extent to which we were willing to fight, and demonstrate our solidarity with each other. Management’s response to this letter was essentially to say: “Thanks, but no thanks,” and brush us off.

Unionisation

By this time we were in regular contact with Unite the Union, which offered to represent us. Democratically, we chose to join with Unite to further our fight. Next, we attempted to raise a collective grievance with our company. The company refused to recognise the collective nature of our grievance, instead telling us to submit grievances individually. This was unacceptable to us and so we chose to ballot for strike action.


Jeremy Corbyn and Howard Beckett join the Goodlord picket
Photo: James Ivens SP

Through this time we were losing members to attrition. Several of our colleagues understandably found new jobs or simply left their positions, unwilling to endure the increasingly-hostile company atmosphere. After it became aware of the ballot for strike action, the company also stepped up its anti-union intimidation effort, frequently ambushing staff members with one-to-one meetings with management where they were quizzed about union involvement and spreading anti-union messages during company-wide meetings.

At the same time, the company was also on a recruitment drive, and the new hires — hired on the new, lower wages and living mostly outside of London — were much less sympathetic to our cause.

Looking back, online organising has been a double-edged sword: while it is easy to get in contact with people, the lack of face-to-face interaction makes it more difficult to establish a sense of camaraderie with new colleagues. I feel now that our recruitment efforts among the new hires may have been more successful if we had put more emphasis on phone conversations and video calls rather than pure text messaging.

Despite these issues, our cause has surged forward. As we prepared for strike action in early 2021, we attempted some talks with the company. The company ultimately refused to move on the issue of pay; however, during this time, we were able to get the company to go back on its intended cuts to hours, sick pay, and mandatory shift work. However, pay remained our major issue and we proceeded on that basis.

We began our indefinite strike in late February 2021, as well as launching a leverage campaign. That involved targeting the company’s clients to generate pressure, and a student solidarity campaign aimed at the student lettings industry. We were awed throughout this by the level of support we received by socialist groups across London and the country. Regular picket lines helped sustain the strikers’ morale and act as a pressure on management.

We also had the Living Wage Foundation revoke Goodlord’s accreditation. After eleven weeks of strike action, we proposed that we go through mediation service Acas to mediate with the company. Though the company did not initially know what Acas was, they eventually agreed and we went through arbitration. This process ended in the company offering us between six to ten weeks’ pay each in lieu of notice. This offer was not acceptable to us as it did not lead to permanent jobs at good wages.

We pointed out to the company that bringing us up to the London Living Wage (which was our compromise position) would cost the company about £2,000 a year for each of us, but the company was willing to pay us approximately £4,000 each as a lump sum. The company declined to explain why they were willing to pay us the lump sum but not increase our salaries.

Sacked

After we rejected this last offer, the company sent us termination notices. This was the thirteenth week of strike action and we had concluded a second ballot to further our legal protection, based on the new issues that had arisen during the strike, including anti-union intimidation and bullying from the company. Despite our valid strike ballot — passed unanimously — the company knowingly broke the law and sacked us.

This is where we currently are. We are pursuing legal options while remaining open to negotiations if the company wants to come to the table. We are focused on securing the best possible outcome for our members, and sending a message to other employers that these practices are not acceptable.

Our current strategy aims to put pressure on the company by targeting its clients and related businesses; already, we have staged demos outside of several of Goodlord’s clients as well as the head offices of Nutmeg.com, of which Goodlord’s CEO William Reeve is chair of the board. We are also working with Socialist Students and others to target Goodlord and their clients during the peak season for student lettings.

For myself, this experience led me to join the Socialist Party and overall moved me to put my beliefs into action by involving myself in party activities and supporting other strikes over London and the country. While I do not want to speak for all my colleagues in their absence, I feel that this experience has made lifelong socialists and trade unionists out of many of us.

Goodlord sacks strikers – fight the penny-pinching, bullying bosses!

27TH MAY 2021

Property services company Goodlord, where workers have been on indefinite strike since 22 February, sacked the striking workers on 19 May. The company was trying to impose a pay cut, and has now ignored the legal protection against dismissal for strikers in the 12 weeks after a ballot. Therefore, the strikers have an extremely strong case for claiming unfair dismissal, and Unite has pledged to support them in this, starting with a mass picket outside the Goodlord offices on 25 May.

Goodlord mass picket, including occupying
the company courtyard, 25 May.
Photo: London SP

The members of Unite’s London Digital and Tech branch reballoted on 26 April and voted overwhelmingly to continue their action. This ballot cited new issues, including the dismissal of strikers whose fixed-term contracts ended while on strike, the hostile environment strikers have been subjected to by the company, and the use of agency workers to undermine the effectiveness of their action.

The workers are currently discussing what action to take next, and Unite has said it will “consider all legal options to bring Goodlord to account for its breach of hard-won trade union rights.”

Solidarity with the Goodlord workers in their fight against the Goodlord bosses!

Goodlord strike forces talks – solidarity needed for crucial dispute

6TH MAY 2021

by James Ivens, East London Socialist Party

The strike at lettings tech platform Goodlord has forced bosses into talks at mediation service Acas. Members of general union Unite in the tenant-referencing department are continuing their indefinite stoppage to restore the London Living Wage.

Meanwhile, the action has compelled the Living Wage Foundation to disaccredit Goodlord. Angry strikers are determined not to let management get away with it.

Regular picket lines at the office in Spitalfields, east London have received some visits from the establishment media, but with little published. The strike marched noisily through Brick Lane on 30 April to publicise the dispute. “We say no to: fire and rehire! You say Goodlord, we say Badlord! We want the living wage – when do we want it? Now!”

Socialist Students activists have collected sheets and sheets of solidarity signatures from University of the Arts London students. On the same Friday, they visited estate agents in Camberwell, south London, demanding they not use Goodlord during the strike.

Student support

Now is peak time for students seeking accommodation. Students’ unions should make public statements supporting the strike and calling on estate agents to withdraw from Goodlord.

Charlotte Street Capital, an investor in Goodlord, has quibbled about the strike’s opposition to ‘fire and rehire’. Employment law tends to be stacked in the capitalists’ favour — but the financiers need a refresher on this point.

Legally, failure to renew a fixed-term contract is a dismissal. Reengagement on inferior pay and conditions absolutely is fire and rehire.

Fire and rehire should be banned. As we go to press, just ahead of polling day, where is the backing from London election candidates?

Blairite Labour mayor Sadiq Khan is silent. But Socialist Party members standing with the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition have visited the picket line regularly.

The implications for all London office workers are weighty if attacks like this pass unchallenged. The bosses argue that remote working means their London workers don’t need London pay levels. This is a strike the whole London trade union movement needs to get behind.

Goodlord strikers fight fire and rehire as part of day of action

29 APRIL 2021

by Ferdy Lyons, East London Socialist Party

Unite the Union held a mass picket outside the tenant referencing company Goodlord on 26 April as part of a day of action against ‘fire and rehire.’

Goodlord staff are currently on strike over cuts to their pay and conditions, and members of the Unite tech workers’ branch, Unite Community branches, Unite housing workers branch, National Shop Stewards Network and Socialist Party members all brought solidarity.

Jeremy Corbyn addressing Goodlord Picket Line

The picket was used as a launch for Unite’s national campaign against fire and rehire, with a large new banner to match.

The picket was also attended by Howard Beckett, Unite assistant general secretary, who is leading the new campaign and the ex-Labour leader and Islington North MP Jeremy Corbyn who both addressed the picket.

Corbyn rightly pointed out the working class needs to fight, and the Goodlord strikers represent the best of what the labour movement stands for.

The Socialist Party stands in solidarity with Unite the Union and the Goodlord strikers in demanding the outlawing of fire-and-rehire tactics and for Goodlord to come to the table and meet the strikers’ demands and settle the dispute.

Goodlord strike starts to bite

Original article 12 March 2021, updated 17 and 26 March and 1 April 2021

by East London Socialist Party

The all-out action at lettings platform Goodlord is making headway. Strikers remain firm while pressure is rising on bosses at the tech firm in Spitalfields, east London.

The tenant-referencing department is essential to the business. Insurance sales to letting firms are key to Goodlord’s revenue, and referencing checks on tenants are key to the insurance.

Mistreated

However, workers in tenant referencing have been badly mistreated by management. (See ‘Goodlord striker speaks out: workers have to fight for our skills to be appreciated’ at socialistparty.org.uk.)

The strikers’ union, Unite, is demanding restoration of the London Living Wage. That’s a mere £10.85 an hour. Management says that remote working means staff don’t need it anymore – a warning to all London office workers.

Goodlord Strikers 12th March 2021
Photo: Scott Jones, East London SP

Pickets have heard that morale among those still at work in tenant referencing has plummeted. With experienced staff on strike, errors are multiplying and service levels faltering. Clients will not be pleased.

Goodlord founder and chief operating officer Tom Mundy has been met with vibrant, determined picket lines.

Bosses enter the office to chants of “you say Goodlord, we say Badlord” and “we want a living wage! When do we want it? Now!”

It’s in management’s power to end the strike. A living wage and permanent contracts could have workers back in and cleaning up the mess their bosses have made in no time.

Goodlord workers continue all-out strike

by Ferdinand Lyons, East London Socialist Party

Tenant-referencing workers at the tech firm Goodlord were out on strike again on 18 and 19 March against the company’s attempts at slashing wages using fire and rehire.

Once again, there was a mass picket outside their offices in East London, with members of the Unite tech workers branch, two Unite Community branches, Unite Housing workers branch and Socialist Party members all attending.

Howard Beckett, Unite assistant general secretary, attended on 18 March showing solidarity from the wider union and calling for Goodlord to abandon its attempt. Like previous pickets, it was very lively, with the strikers determined to carry on with the action until their demands are met. We can’t rely on the bosses to self-regulate fair pay, we need a £15 minimum wage now and we need an end to fire and rehire.

by Scott Jones, East London Socialist Party

Tenant-referencing workers at the tech company Goodlord in east London were again out on strike on 12 March against the company’s attempts at ‘fire and rehire’.

The strikers, members of the Unite union tech workers branch, are employed on rolling fixed-term contracts. When Goodlord offered them their new contracts, a 20% pay cut had been applied so the workers are now calling for the restoration of their previous terms and conditions of the London Living Wage.

There was huge support for the picket line from tech workers in the Communication Workers Union, other Unite members, the NSSN, and eight members from three Socialist Party branches bringing solidarity.

The workers are proud to be out on strike and determined to win: “It’s ridiculous what they are doing and we can’t let them get away with it. We are fighting for everyone to stop this practice,” said one.

We can’t rely on the bosses to self-regulate fair pay, we need a £15 minimum wage now and we need an end to fire and rehire.

The workers are out on indefinite strike and the next picket line is 11.30am to 1pm on 18 March.

Goodlord striker speaks out: ‘workers have to fight for our skills to be appreciated’

by James Ivens, East London Socialist Party

Tenant referencing workers at tech company Goodlord, organised by general union Unite, are on all-out strike against ‘fire and rehire’ wage cuts. Striker Athena Parnell spoke to James Ivens, East London Socialist Party, about the issues facing tech workers and all workers fighting back.

JI: What is Goodlord? What do you do?
AP: Goodlord is a tech company, a platform for letting agents. They also offer referencing services to check on potential tenants, and insurance for letting agents. I work in the referencing team.

JI: What is the strike demanding?
AP: The London Living Wage – ideally for everyone, but at least for everyone in London. And permanent contracts.

JI: How has management provoked it?
AP: Until I joined in March, most of the referencing workers were employed through a temp agency. I was part of the first batch hired on fixed-term contracts, for six months.

We live in London and were hired because the office is in London. We were told that because we deal with confidential information we need to work from the office. When the first lockdown started, our group was the last allowed to leave the office.

Picket Line at Goodlord

In July, a group of us got together and asked management for a conversation. These jobs are not unskilled. They require two or three months’ training.

So we felt we had something to offer them as workers; we wanted them to offer us permanent contracts. Due to the pandemic, we were afraid that at the end of six months we were going to lose our jobs.

They rudely refused to talk to us about that. This broke a lot of people’s hearts. The company pushes the propaganda that we are a ‘family’; we ‘love each other’; free beer – you know what I mean. They pose as a start-up to avoid giving us normal conditions and wages.

We were told there would be a restructuring in the department. A consulting company was hired to make the referencing department more ‘viable’ for the business. Our contracts got extended until the end of January.

We heard nothing from the consulting company. Then management notified us of a big announcement at the end of October.

One day before our big announcement, the company announced that many management positions were getting a promotion or more money. So we were quite excited!

JI: What was the big announcement?
AP: They announced an offer of permanent contracts – with a 25% pay cut. I am on £24,000; they want to reduce my salary to £18,000.

They said that since the job can now be done from home, they are no longer going to pay the London Living Wage. This absolutely made us mad. Every single person there lives in London.

I accepted a contract extension until the end of April. The company offered us one week of pay if we quit.

JI: What were you expecting?
AP: There is no hierarchy in our department. No seniors, no leads. Everyone is responsible for training. Logically we expected a restructure to be a restructure – assigning responsibilities. It turned out just to be pay cuts.

JI: How did you respond?
AP: At that point we wrote a letter to the company, from almost everybody in the referencing department. We asked for a collective consultation. Hear us out. Let’s just be a bit more logical about the options.

They absolutely refused. There could be individual consultation, but no collective consultation.

My colleagues tell me that one of the managers said “we don’t have to negotiate with you collectively, it’s not like you’re in a union.” That’s when some of us organised to join the union.

JI: How did you organise?
AP: It’s quite hard to organise during the lockdown. We invited people to have personal conversations via Zoom and WhatsApp. We had a group working together.

By the middle of November, some of us were reaching out to colleagues, some of us were drafting letters, and some of us were reaching out to unions. The response from Unite the Union was overwhelmingly positive, so all of us decided to join Unite.

Unite said it was good we had written the collective letter and tried to negotiate first. Management couldn’t say we hadn’t tried to act reasonably.

We got help from the union on legal next steps and filed a collective grievance and at the same time, we discussed to start balloting for industrial action. The procedure can take a long time, and we’ve been assured we can call it off at any time we want.

Our grievance and letters were simply ignored until the ballot notice reached the company.

By the time they decided to hear our grievance out, it was January and we had voted for industrial action. Then the talks finally started. We even postponed the strike, hoping for a resolution. They didn’t offer one.

JI: Have you reached other departments?
AP: Other workers in the company have joined Unite. But it is a challenge not being able to talk to people in person.

The wider company didn’t know much beyond what management told them. In this age, when people are working from home, management can more easily control the narrative. We started to send emails informing colleagues about things.

I would say you need to try everything you can to reach out to people personally. Management has the resources to push their agenda in every meeting, in every one-on-one.

I think people need to feel the personal touch, something heartfelt. This issue is not just paper-pushing. There are real people involved whose lives are enormously affected.

A single mum has already had to give up this job. She left in January because she could not take care of her child on this salary.

I believe you have to find a way, through social media or whatever, to share these stories. As individual employees you can suffer repercussions for speaking out against the company on social media – so this is also where the union comes in.

JI: What is management’s attitude to your demands?
AP: Absolutely negative. After we declared we had joined the union, management started attacking us in meetings.

There was a quite bad ‘company-wide huddle’, where management called us an “attack coming from inside.” That had a negative effect on people all over the company, not just in the referencing department. So the next week management backed off.

They created something called the ‘feedback group’. A separate meeting – for the whole department – excluding the union.

We had to vote for representatives on this group. They clearly forged the votes; even those who hadn’t joined the union were still supportive of it. They use this group to pretend to listen.

The rest of the company gets three months’ maternity leave. Referencing gets six weeks. Management pushed up the maternity leave. We said: are you kidding? Why aren’t we already aligned with the rest of the company?

Management gave the rest of the company holidays and unlimited sick leave during the pandemic. We got three days’ sick leave. We got them to increase this to ten days.

It’s a joke. They don’t lose money. They told us that on average, staff take 0.5 sick days a year. If that’s true, why didn’t you give us the same as the rest of the company?

At the ‘huddle’ on the last day before our strike, they attacked the strike. They said something like “we’ve faced problems before, but we’re going to sort it out as a team. This is like a football match…” They named people who were forwards, people who were backs… “We’re going to score, we’re going to win this game!”

They asked for questions. One of my amazing colleagues told them: “We never took going on strike lightly. We never wanted it to come to this. Listening to you treating this situation as a game is horrific.” Then there was silence!

JI: More and more workers at tech companies are getting organised. Why do you think that is?
AP: The tech industry is booming right now. Exploitation started right out of the gate. This is an industry that needs unions and sticking together as much as possible in future. We have to fight, for better salaries and being more appreciated.

I would even make a comparison to the industrial revolution to what’s happened in the last 20 years. Especially since the recession, companies and people with power are on our backs exploiting us.

Think about how much of a wage gap there is between a programmer and a person who owns the company. Why is that?

I would like to reach out to the IT side, to the programmers and designers. How is it that you create all these things, yet you can barely buy your own place?

How is it that there is a gigantic ravine between you, who sell your skills, and people who own the property? You should stick together, from the entry-level to the most skilled!

For the past 20 years, we’ve just believed this bullshit that companies have to cut our salaries for economic reasons. I think everybody in the tech industry could earn more.

JI: What would you say to other workers facing ‘fire and rehire’ tactics?
AP: Unionise! Sticking together and fighting for our rights is crucial right now.

Other companies are going to use the pandemic in the same way as ours. They’ve already said to us: “You’re working from home? I’m paying you less, then!” You have no right to decide what I spend my money on!

Everybody who sells their skills, and that’s how you make your living – we have to stick together to negotiate against those who own stuff.

Wherever you came from, wherever you’re going, whatever you do. We have to stick together and fight for our skills to be appreciated.

JI: That’s what Karl Marx said – and the Socialist Party agrees! So how can people support your strike?
AP: We have a strike fund. We’ve had some donations, which is amazing and we really appreciate it.

But also what we would appreciate is people getting in touch with Goodlord and telling them what you think of them. They pretend they are not, but they are proud of their reputation.

Supporting our picket lines would also be amazing.

Support the strike!

  • Messages of support to [email protected]
  • Email complaints to [email protected]; tweet complaints to @sogoodlord
  • Strike fund donations to Unite LE/7098L London ITC Branch, sort code 60-83-01, account 20303680, reference Goodlord

See also:

Earlier article on this site

Earlier article from The Socialist