precarious work and solidarity

Tawanda Nyabango reports on discussions among cleaner solidarity activists

At this year’s Anarchist bookfair the Industrial Workers of the World organised a discussion around the issue of solidarity with cleaners. Speakers included a Cleaners Defence Committee regular, a leading organiser in the University College London Living Wage Campaign and a member of The Commune.

The meeting began with the speaker from the Cleaners Defence Committee giving a brief outline of the struggles and solidarity actions that took place earlier on this year. These included the Willis insurance and School of Oriental and African Studies cleaners’ disputes in 2009, and more recently the struggle UBS cleaners and the campaign to reinstate victimised shop steward Alberto Durango. The Cleaners Defence Committee has sought to assist and build links between these disputes.

The speaker  from the University College London Living Wage Campaign was asked to explain the strategy and tactics used to win the Living Wage from UCL and the difficulties they encountered. It was interesting to hear about the involvement (or lack of) from the main University trade unions.

The final speaker from The Commune talked about the way the ‘left’ usually carries out solidarity with workers and their usual short comings. These included seeing workers’ disputes as recruitment opportunities, rather than working class actions as worthwhile in themselves. He added that it was important that workers themselves should be empowered by the campaign as a means to develop future struggles, not merely being the recipients of charitable concessions.

The floor then opened for a lively debate. It was pleasing to see two young workers from Australia giving details about disputes they helped give solidarity, where bus workers organised both within and outside the union.

For more info about how to get involved in the Cleaners Defence Committee and its activities, send an email to