Trouble’s Brewing: Man Claims He Was Kicked Out of BrewDog Bar Over Union Leaflet

“If a pub chain is horrified by stickers, they’ve clearly never been into one of their own pub bathrooms.”

by Polly Smythe

19 August 2022

A trade union leaflet. Photo: @InfoSnores on Twitter
A trade union leaflet. Photo: @InfoSnores on Twitter

A row has broken out between subversive craft beer punks BrewDog and a trade union, after a customer claimed he was kicked out of the biggest bar in the UK by security for carrying a trade union leaflet.

BrewDog, based in Ellon, Scotland, describe themselves as a, “post-punk, apocalyptic, motherfucker of a craft brewery.” Marketing themselves as revolutionising a corporate and boring beer industry, with a charter that commits to “blowing shit up”, the brewery claims to be a progressive disruptor. Their slogans include, “This is the revolution – so help me Dog.”

On Thursday, BrewDog opened a bar near Waterloo station in London. BrewDog founder James Watt has described it as “the biggest bar in the UK”, encompassing 30,000 square foot. In a video posted to social media, he boasts that it has bowling lanes, a slide, an ice cream van, its own coffee shop and, for some reason, a podcast space. Watt describes it as, “hands down the coolest thing we’ve ever done.”

But on Thursday evening, one unhappy customer said on Twitter: “Lmao just kicked out of the @BrewDog pub near Waterloo station because I took a leaflet from some union guys picketing outside. Security team literally put two guys on me as soon as I walked in just cos I was holding this.”

The Brewery Workers Union, a branch of the Industrial Workers of the World, were distributing stickers and leaflets with information about working conditions in the brewing industry outside the massive new bar.

One leafleteer who chose to remain anonymous told Novara Media: “As soon as we got started, BrewDog got very pissed off.”

“They sent a bunch of managers out, who said to us ‘look, working conditions here are fine, I’m a manager and I can promise that.’”

The managers also told the leafleteers that they were impacting BrewDog’s business and putting off customers, the leafleteer said.

When the leafleteers did not go away, the managers of the property that BrewDog leases the bar from called the police, the leafleteer said.

But BrewDog denied this version of events.

A spokesperson said: “This is not an accurate representation of what actually happened. We were alerted by our landlord that several individuals were caught on CCTV vandalising the surrounding property with strong adhesive stickers. These same individuals entered our bar and placed strong adhesive stickers on windows and in the toilets. These individuals were politely and calmly asked to leave the premises. Subsequently the centre landlord called the police regarding vandalism to their property. Police attended and moved about five individuals away from the immediate vicinity.”

The Brewery Workers Union said that the stickers were standard commercially printed stickers. “We didn’t go to some super-secret Russian factory that makes weaponised glue,” a spokesperson said.

“If a pub chain spokesperson is horrified by the existence of stickers, then they’ve clearly never been into one of the bathrooms in their own pubs.”

The spokesperson said that leafleteers remained outside of the bar and distributed stickers to customers, who then stuck them inside the bar. They said that leafleteers stopped handing out stickers once requested to do so by management.

The British Transport Police confirmed that officers were called to BrewDog at 7:45PM last night, following a report of protestors. The police moved the protestors down the street and no offences were reported.

A BrewDog Waterloo staff member who witnessed the incident spoke anonymously to Novara Media for fear of repercussions from their employer. They said: “Security were immediately on the customer, and it seemed like they were acting off instruction. He was escorted outside for carrying a leaflet.

“It’s terrifying. If they’ll do that to a customer who wants to get a beer, what would they do to staff who thought about unionisation? It makes me scared to even raise unions with my co-workers.

“You got the sense that managers were personally a bit pissed off. The way BrewDog works is that they give a lot of work and responsibility to very young people. For a lot of the younger managers, this was their first big project, and some of the biggest names in BrewDog came. Managers felt, ‘shit, why is this happening?’”

Brewdog is no stranger to controversy with its workers. In June 2021, 61 former BrewDog workers published an open letter under the title, “Punks With a Purpose”. Also signed by 45 former staff members who didn’t feel able to include their name, the letter alleged the Scottish brewer’s growth had come about by treating people, “like objects; harassing, assaulting, belittling, insulting or gaslighting them.”

“Being treated like a human being was sadly not always a given for those working at BrewDog,” the letter said. Workers felt, “belittled and/or pressured into working beyond their capacity,” and often eventually felt, “forced out of the business.”

While the brewery briefly considered rallying current staff members to sign a counter-letter, they instead opted to apologise to former employees, saying: “We are committed to doing better, not just as a reaction to this, but always.”

Following the publication of the open letter, Unite Hospitality contacted BrewDog, seeking, “discussions ensuring workers have a collective voice to resolve the serious issues which remain.” The union received no response.

Watt is a colourful figure. He wrote a self-help book, Business For Punks, which includes choice tips such as, “being reasonable is for ambitionless wimps” and, “don’t start a business, start a crusade.”

In March it was revealed that Watt hired private investigators to obtain information on those “he believed were taking part in a smear campaign against him.” Watt was also accused of trying to intimidate workers who had contributed to the BBC Scotland documentary Disclosure: The Truth About BrewDog.

The Brewery Workers Union said: “BrewDog have gone through the classic corporate playbook, saying the mistakes they’ve made were in the past and they’ve changed. But this shows they’re still up to all sorts of tricks. Throwing someone out for having a union leaflet shows the toxic culture hasn’t changed.”

Watt had been at the Waterloo bar earlier on Thursday. Staff believe he was testing out the bar’s podcast booth. Whether he rode the giant metallic slide is unknown.

Polly Smythe is Novara Media’s labour movement correspondent.

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