Involved in cleaners’ struggles in the face of the anti-migrant repression of the UK state and the opposition of the Unite union bureaucracy, Alberto Durango was recently victimised by contractor Lancaster working for Swiss bank UBS. See here for details of the 12th February protest in the City of London defending migrant workers’ right to organise. Here he reports on the UBS case (haga clic aquí para leer en español):
As a representative of UBS workers I am very satisfied with the many activists’ and union organisations’ response to the call for solidarity, against the injustice committed by UBS and Lancaster: a fine example of working-class solidarity.
When I started working at UBS I found much discontent among the workers. In the last year their working conditions had been mercilessly attacked. This assault began after the success of the ‘living wage’ campaign in 2008, the bank and the cleaning contractor Mitie reducing the number of staff and moving full-timers onto part time timetables.
The excuses for this first attack were the crisis, and, supposedly, saving energy. Then they started to take break-time out of the workers’ pay, and, as if it was some small concern, they told the workers that Mitie had lost the contract and the incoming employer (Lancaster) would cut a further hour.
This was the spark which lit the fuse of the workers, who could not put up with this any longer. Workers joined the union and elected me their representative. Without delay we wrote to Lancaster protesting the change in working conditions, making clear enough that we would not accept it.
The company allowed us a meeting, which I attended with all those affected by the change. The Lancaster representative was the same person who in May 2009 had turned me in to the police and the UK Borders Agency as punishment for the Schroders workers’ victory of October 2008. The meeting began with much arrogance and intimidation on the part of the Lancaster representative, who told us that we had to accept the changes or lose our jobs. The workers’ response was very proud and emphatic: we would not give in.
Lancaster officially became the contractor on 1st February, and on the 2nd they suspended me, no longer able to work for Lancaster given past conflicts with them. They called me to a disciplinary hearing on the 4th, where I was sacked.
This type of attack happens every day in different contracts with different companies, people sacked because they will not accept worsening conditions. Most such attacks pass unnoticed, allowing the companies to violate workers’ rights with impunity. For Lancaster and UBS I am just another person in the way of their plans to make more profits: so they want to crush me like a cockroach.
This struggle, which has only just begun, must be symbolic and an inspiration to other workers in the same situation. The living wage must be made real, and wealthy companies must be forced to respect workers’ conditions. I invite all workers to build a common front to stand up for our dignity: all workers must unite to resist the attacks unleashed by our class enemies.