cleaning up the industry

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.

3 thoughts on “cleaning up the industry

  1. Am I right in thinking that Balfour Beatty is the cleaning contractor for Senate House? If so, are any attempts being made to link up the cleaners’ dispute with the construction workers fighting against Balfour Beatty? As someone who’s not in London, there’s not really any practical contribution I could make to that happening, but it’d be amazing if it did take off.


  2. Some people went to the electricians’ protests and gave out leaflets for the cleaners’ demos, and I was dragged to the microphone and made a speech at the Shard. One of the electricians told us he had worked on the wiring at Senate House once, and he came to the next cleaners’ protest and made a really nice speech about being united. That’s as far as we’ve got though, with a lot of trying, so if anyone has ideas on how to make the links better I’d be grateful to hear them.


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