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Unions boycott pub after landlord turns away striking rail

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Union leaders have called for a boycott of a pub after a landlord turned away a rail workers’ Christmas party booking, claiming the ongoing rail strike had badly affected his business.

In response, the pub landlord, who said it would be “hypocritical” to accept the booking after months of the impact of the rail strikes on his trade, has accused the unions of using “bullying behaviour” in calling for the boycott.

Andy Shaw, the landlord of the Portwall Tavern in Redcliffe, Bristol, said his business, customers and staff had all suffered from the ongoing dispute between rail unions, the train operating companies and the Government, and so he took the decision to turn down the request to hold a rail workers’ Christmas do at his pub.

The row began back in August when the Bristol Rail Workers’ Social and Welfare Fund asked to book out the entire pub, which is less than half a mile from Bristol Temple Meads station, for its Christmas do, due to take place this Saturday, December 10.

The committee, which supports rail workers in all the various unions that work in the rail industry in Bristol, had booked out the Portwall Tavern for the past four or five years for its Christmas do, but this time landlord Andy Shaw told them he wasn’t comfortable accepting the booking.

In an email exchange, he asked the rail workers if they had been involved in the ongoing strikes involving GWR staff on the railways around Bristol, and when they confirmed they had, he said he couldn’t accept their booking. “I wrote back a very polite email, saying that while I wished them well in their action and hoped it would be sorted soon, I couldn’t accept the booking,” he told BristolLive.

“It would be hypocritical of me to do so, given I’ve lost a lot of money because of this strike. It’s affecting me personally, it’s affecting my staff, and also my ability to get staff in because of the train strikes, and it’s affecting the trade we get because we’re close to the station.

“I’ve had two years of Covid and now just as we’re getting back on our feet, there’s this. The chief executive of Fullers was on the radio the other day and said it’s going to destroy their hospitality business,” added Mr Shaw, who has run the Portwall Tavern for almost 20 years, but put it up for sale in February this year. 

“I don’t particularly have an opinion either way about the rail dispute, and I politely wished them well in the future. I wasn’t disrespectful, it’s just that I’m not sure I can accommodate them. I said ‘I hope you respect my views as I do yours’, and left it at that,” he said, adding that he didn’t hear back from the rail workers.

In response, the Bristol Trades Union Council passed a motion at the end of November calling on union members from across the city not to visit the Portwall Tavern because of the issue over the booking, calling it an “anti-worker establishment”.

The rail workers social fund committee decided to take their business elsewhere, but rail workers union ASLEF was not happy that the pub had denied its custom because of the rail strike.

ASLEF submitted a motion to the Bristol Trades Council to call for trade unionists to boycott the pub. The motion, which was passed by the Bristol TUC at the end of November, read: “ASLEF calls on Bristol Trades Council to call for trade unionists to boycott the Portwall Tavern, informing affiliated unions that this is an anti-worker establishment and that trade unionists should avoid drinking here in both personal and professional capacities.

“ASLEF calls on Bristol Trades Council to encourage trade unionists to seek out independent, trade union-friendly pubs in Bristol, of which there are a significant number. Given the current cost-of-living crisis which puts many pubs in danger of closure, it is more important now than it has been for a long time that we endeavour to support the establishments that share the aims and ideals of the trade union movement,” the motion added.

After hearing about the boycott call, Mr Shaw said he was disappointed. “They are getting the wrong end of the stick, and they are using bullying behaviour here. This is a big union bullying a small pub, in saying that. It’s a big sledgehammer to crack a small nut, and I’m flabbergasted,” he added. “They’ve got the right to strike, and I support that, but I’ve got the right to take or not take whatever bookings I want to.”

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