An escalation of "Americanised" direct action protests over staff disputes is "holding independent restaurants to ransom", insiders claim.

Concerns have been raised about the tactics of groups affiliated to the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), which has a global presence.

A Clydeside branch was involved in the dispute that led to the closure of the Saramago restaurant at Glasgow's Centre for Contemporary Arts (CCA) and all staff losing their jobs.

Bosses claim they were given 48-hour deadlines to investigate grievances and say snap walkouts meant the business could not survive.

It is understood around 18 employees did not back the action.

The IWW, which was founded in 1905, describes itself as a movement that "puts power in the hands of workers" by training members in direct action.

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In 2007, branches in Glasgow and Dumfries were a key driving force in a successful campaign to prevent the closure of one of Glasgow University's campuses (The Crichton) in Dumfries.

However, critics say their actions give small businesses very little time and scope to resolve disputes.

Dr Catherine Owen, an expert in risk management and entrepreneurship at the University of Glasgow’s Adam Smith Business School said: "We do currently seem to be seeing an escalation of American-style “direct action” that uses social media campaigns and bypasses UK law on union activities by, for example, occupying cafes or disrupting service and the results can be catastrophic for this very special but fragile part of Glasgow’s creative ecosystem.”

"Small businesses are uniquely vulnerable to the effects of worker protests or customer boycotts because they rarely have the resources to survive sustained disruption to day-to-day activities. 

"Unfortunately this means that the result of this kind of activism is often the closure of the business and loss of jobs. 

"Hospitality is especially vulnerable as the sector is still recovering from the pandemic," she added.

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"Many small businesses have made significant efforts to introduce the Scottish Living Wage and other improvements like taxis home for staff on late shifts even though increases in food wholesale prices and energy costs have made it harder than ever to make a profit by running a restaurant or cafe. 

"Many small hospitality businesses are also hugely important to Glasgow’s cultural life, providing spaces for gigs and clubs and other creative activities and nurturing generations of musicians, comedians and artists in the city."

The owner of a pub in Glasgow City Centre, claimed some mainstream union representatives were also pursuing techniques that bordered on "bullying and harassment" rather than working with employers to achieve the best outcomes for staff.

He said: "Like all independent businesses there are things that are very right about them and there are things that are wrong and things that get missed.

"I don't think this is by any definition unionism. It feels like a publicity campaign."

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He said the public might not be surprised if larger pub or restaurant chains mistreated employees but "attacking a right-on vegan restaurant is a headline."

Alan Miller, who has worked in hospitality crisis management in Glasgow for a number of years says the advent of social media means groups can make serious claims and "gain a lot of capital" quickly

He said: "This in itself is of a lot of value for them regardless of the outcome might be.

"They aren't really delivering what they claim to deliver against capitalism or poor working practices or abusive bosses.

"What they do is create very, very small campaigns under the umbrella of a very worthy cause but what they are actually doing is consolidating their own visibility and presence.

"Although IWW is a very long-established organisation, it is a very particular type of organisation where people can set up on their own, create their own rules and operate under the banner of a much larger organisation that has history and appears to have legitimacy."

He said small independently-run restaurants in Glasgow would "undoubtedly" be nervous.

He said: "For someone like Wetherspoons or the G1 group, they have enormous resources, they have lawyers, legal teams and it wouldn't really make any difference to them."

He cited the example of the Live Art Development Agency, in England, where a small number of staff made a series of claims online and created a petition which generated thousands of signatures.

He said: "The Live Art Development Agency issued a press release saying the claims weren't true.

"They said they were disappointed that so many people on social media were willing to amplify this message with spending any time to verify if this was the case.

"False claims can very very quickly establish themselves because people want to be seen to supporting things that seem good and reasonable."

In response a spokesman for IWW Clydeside said the group had supported workers in disputes across the UK and said it organises "where its members are".

He cited four examples where he claimed the group had secured victories for workers.

They included a case where an employee working in a cafe in Glasgow City Centre had apparently been suspended for gross misconduct after raising concerns about waiting times for customers. She was re-instated after the group intervened.

A spokesman for the Scottish Hospitality Group said it was up to employers to make sure staff are treated fairly and have a positive working environment but added: "We would all prefer people to sit down around a table and discuss the issues which in turn should lead to better outcomes for all."

A spokesman for the STUC, said: "The tactics and workplace action any union employ is their strategic decision, coordinated collectively in accordance with the democratic backing of members.”