"Difficult, unpredictable, and poorly paid" is how one former bar worker describes the job.

He said conditions can be so poor in some establishments that even "the less class-conscious worker" will take risks for change.

In 2021-2022, this employee and a colleague began organising in the workplace with the support and training of a union that many outside the hospitality industry may know little about despite it having a history that stretches back more than 100 years.

The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) was founded in Chicago in 1905 and was nicknamed "Wobblies" although the reason for this is uncertain.

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It described itself as "revolutionary industrial unionism", aligning itself to anarchist labour movements.

At its peak in August 1917, IWW membership was estimated at more than 150,000, with active wings in the United States, the UK, Canada, and Australia.

By the 2010s, this had dropped to around 3000 members but there have been notable victories.

The union waged a campaign at an off-licence in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 2013, Chicago-Lake Liquors, which had a wage cap of $10.50 per hour.

In the face of demands for this cap to be lifted, managers fired five organisers. Pickets followed, including one that the union claimed "turned an extremely busy Saturday into a quiet afternoon."

After several months, the National Labour Relations Board announced that it found merit in the union's unfair dismissal complaint. The sacked workers were awarded  $32,000.

READ MORE: Glasgow restaurants 'held to ransom' by 'Americanised' direct action

Closer to home, in 2007, IWW 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.

Estimates suggest more than 48% of workers in hospitality are not paid the living wage of £10.42 per hour. It is perhaps not that surprising that workers are drawn to direct action groups.

However, not all campaigns end in a victory for staff.

The IWW's Clydeside branch was recently involved in a dispute that ultimately led to a long-standing Glasgow restaurant closing and all staff losing their jobs, leading many to question the effectiveness of its campaign.

Bosses claim they were given "unrealistic" 48-hour deadlines to investigate and resolve grievances and say snap walkouts meant the business was untenable. 

While accounts are variable it is understood around 18 employees did not back the action.

There have been claims that activists target, small independent restaurants and bars, more likely to be frequented by socially-conscious younger customers because "it makes better headlines" than if a large chain behaves badly towards employees.

Alan Miller, who has worked in hospitality crisis management in Glasgow for a number of years, told The Herald: "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.

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

READ MORE: Glasgow arts centre restaurant closed amid bitter staff dispute 

Employees may choose to align themselves with groups such as the IWW because it is more difficult for bigger unions to organise in a fleeting workforce which might only stay around for six months or less.

According to insiders, while the more mainstream unions may publicly show support for direct action protests, the actions of such groups can cause conflict.

One union source referenced a dispute involving cleaners in London, whom Unite and Unison had been trying to organise.

He said: "The IWGB (The Independent Workers' Union of Great Britain) took those members from them and promised more direct solutions to their issues.

"That caused a bit of conflict. 

"Those unions are outside the TUC family and the TUC normally play a role in trying to resolve issues between unions.

"When a group of unions that have a slightly different philosophy are outside the TUC, there is no kind of regulation there as well.

READ MORE: Unions and activists stage pay demonstration at Glasgow vegan restaurant 

"What it relies on is a very different model of union organisation which is more activist based. Maybe you can only work on a small level."

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There are also claims that some of the mainstream unions are adopting more radical tactics.

The owner of a pub in Glasgow City Centre, claimed actions by one rep bordered on "bullying and harassment".

Ben Sellers of the Institute of Employment Rights (IER) said the major, TUC affiliated, unions will generally favour the long-term approach whereby they try to create positive dialogue with employers whenever possible.

He said: "If you have quite a small employer that doesn't have a huge workforce but suddenly they have people picketing their workplace unofficially and getting a lot of attention on social media, on some level it could be quite successful in the short term because it might frighten that employer into giving into demands.

"A more long-term strategy by a union would be to create a relationship with the employer, look for recognition and negotiation. 

"I'm not saying it would be all rosy but industrial action is a big step, with significant consequences for their members, so unions tend not to go for that option straight away.

"The IWW has a long history but is based, in many ways, on a more anarchist philosophy. 

"I think there's a balance to be had.

"If a group of workers are in dispute with an employer and they are not getting the results they want, frustration might set in.

"I've heard people say the answer is to set up their own union or joined unions where there is a bit more flexibility about what they do within trade union legislation - but clearly there are dangers to that - of fragmentation and a loss of long-term power. 

"The more established unions have more onus to work within those laws, under the threat of fines, or even having their funds sequestered or other sanctions and that the law would find harder to apply to those smaller, independent unions.

"Most of the established TUC-affiliated unions would have a more long-term strategy. Their aim in taking any kind of action would be to bring the employer to the table rather than highlight their actions on social media or make the management of their business impossible.

"There might be a bit of radicalisation among the more established unions in the wake of the newer anti-strike legislation, but that would have to be balanced against the risks. 

He said "small victories" by the more militant unions can often be reversed if there is a drop off of activity and enthusiasm. So, the pressure through activism and agitation has to be sustained in order for it to achieve results.

"Once people get dispirited very often the whole thing disappears," he said.

"Unions always have to play a big balancing role. They have to be able to campaign for their rights, conditions and better pay but you have to keep jobs whenever possible. There may be a backlash if unions are using tactics which might risk losing jobs. 

"There is probably an argument that some employers might use that as an excuse to say I can't afford to pay people the minimum or living wage and therefore I have to close, but I also think there are small, independent employers who are clearly struggling in this economic environment and it’s in everyone’s interest to find solutions that satisfy both."

David Cabrelli, a Professor of Labour Law at the University of Glasgow, says the more direct approach can be "fraught with danger".

He said: "The trade union will be liable to the employer at common law if it doesn’t adhere to laws and regulations on industrial action. 

"In effect, it could bankrupt them if the employers take them to court to recover their losses as a result of the staff walk-out.

"As for the staff who walked out in such circumstances, they are effectively in breach of their employment contracts, so if they are dismissed, their protection from unfair dismissal will be minimal, as they are engaged in what constitutes “unofficial industrial action”.

"So, it is a risky strategy for a union to take as well as for the staff, because the employer will be able to recover its losses from the union and sack the staff without a great deal of exposure to liability. 

"But then, perhaps the union doesn’t care if it is made bankrupt and is willing to take the risk?"