Siobhan Breathnach writes on a fresh turn in cleaners’ fight for a living wage
Cleaners in two workplaces in London have been striking for better pay and conditions. Both strikes, in the Guildhall in the City of London, and Senate House, University of London, started over unpaid wages.
In the Guildhall, cleaners walked out twice over unpaid wages. After they received what was owed to them, they started a series of demonstrations demanding the London Living Wage (LLW) and an end to abusive treatment. In the middle of the campaign, the cleaning contractor changed from Ocean to Sodexho, who started bullying the cleaners straight away. After two days they suspended the union rep, which the cleaners responded to with a noisy emergency protest.
At Senate House, the cleaners also walked out over unpaid wages. After a picket of more than a hundred people they won payment of their wages and a settlement for a worker who had been victimised. They started holding demonstrations for the London Living Wage and for sick pay. They had a lot of support from students at Bloomsbury Fightback, and from workers in the UCU and Unison unions at universities like SOAS and Birkbeck.
These two groups of cleaners, although they have different employers and different unions (IWW at Guildhall, Unison at Birkbeck) have supported each other’s picket lines and backed each other’s disputes. The employers are trying not to concede anything over pay, but other universities, such as London Met, are now paying the LLW. If the fight wins at Guildhall and Senate House it could have an important knock-on effect on the cleaning sector in London.