Siobhan Breathnach reports on Guildhall cleaners standing up against management bullying
The Guildhall cleaners started organising in the summer against bad conditions and non-payment of wages. They have joined the cleaners’ branch of the Industrial Workers of the World and fought for the London Living Wage and against bullying and harassment. The company, Sodexo, have responded to this by trying to force the organised cleaners to leave. They have suspended a union rep, who is still waiting for the resolution of his case after months.
Recently, the employer’s tactics of intimidation have got worse and some cleaners held a sit-in to protest, which started on 22nd December. They had been subject to all kinds of abuse, including one woman being locked in an area for two hours, and another being taken into the basement and threatened. Some of us from The Commune and SolFed went down to support them just after Christmas.
We arrived to see police in anti-stab vests standing over the cleaners and shouting at them. One of us, who arrived just after the rest, was thrown straight out by the security guard. The police were threatening to drag the cleaners out by force if they didn’t leave the building, and were coming out with some impressively offensive arguments, even by their usual standards. “When you are at work you have to do what you are told” was a pretty typical example. When the cleaners protested that the way the company was treating them was also against the law, the police said that they “were not here to discuss the details of your dispute.” The cleaners finally decided to leave in the face of the police threats.
That the company are acting like this shows how much they want to get rid of the organised workers. It also shows how confident they are that they will get away with this behaviour, which is clearly illegal as well as disgusting. Let’s hope they’re proved wrong.