When Rachel Woods lost her seat in Northern Ireland’s assembly election she returned to a job she knew and loved: working in a pub.
The 33-year-old Green party representative had cooked, scrubbed and pulled pints since she was a teenager and saw no shame in doing so again.
Social media trolls however scorned Woods as if she were demeaned by toiling in the Dirty Duck Alehouse and restaurant in Holywood, County Down.
Woods hit back. “Tonight I was very weirdly slabbered at for working in a pub and kitchen after not being returned in #AE22,” she tweeted, referring to the assembly elections held in May. “#Hospitality workers should never be looked down on, we do ‘proper’ jobs & for so many people, their chosen career. I am proud to serve no matter where. #UppaWorkers.”
The riposte on 30 October prompted a wave of support that continues to swell a month later, with social media commentators and Northern Ireland newspapers this week hailing Woods for puncturing snobbery and stigma.
Prominent people disclosed their own stints cleaning toilets, waiting on tables, delivering newspapers and other unglamorous jobs – albeit all in the past.
Woods said she would continue to tackle prejudice about hospitality work. “This attitude that it’s not a proper job is endemic, it’s deeply rooted,” she said in an interview on Wednesday after a shift at the Dirty Duck. “People will ask ‘what are you planning on doing after you leave here?’ I’m in no rush to go and get a supposed proper job. This is proper work.”
After losing her seat in the assembly election she did not hesitate to return to the pub for just above the “real living wage” of £10.90. “There wasn’t another political job waiting for me so what was I going to do? I’ve got to keep a roof over my head.”
Woods has a bachelor’s and a master’s degree and has worked as a financial analyst, but has no desire to do so again. “I’ve worked in terrible offices. But in hospitality you’re almost like a family. And I like socialising with people.”
The trolling belittled not just her but waiters, kitchen porters and others dedicated to their work, she said. “They were having a go at my colleagues. It’s physical labour, it’s hard work, and people who work in the industry should be celebrated. This can be a valuable career.”
Snobs overlooked the camaraderie and flexibility, said Woods. “My colleagues feel it’s a good job and they’re proud.” Society prioritised material wealth and treated low paid work as a failure, she said. “It’s not. If people are coming in to work and they’re happy and can keep a roof over their heads, that’s what matters.”
Woods has returned to politics – she was co-opted on to North Down and Ards borough council in September – but is keeping the day job. On Thursday she will work 10am to 10pm, on Friday 5pm to 2am, on Saturday from midday to 9pm, and Sunday 10am to 10pm. On Monday she does council work. “It’s all go. I don’t have a day off. I work seven days a week. I like to be busy.”