Cleaners struggles in global London

Submitted by Matthew on 21 October, 2010 - 11:01 Author: Ira Berkovic

Trade unionists and migrants' rights activists picketed the HQ of cleaning contractor Initial on 11 October, in a protest against the company's use of immigration status to intimidate worker-activists.

In one particularly outrageous case, a worker who had been underpaid was summoned to management's offices under the pretext of discussing the issue. When they arrived, immigration police were called and the worker was arrested.

“When people are becoming unionised and standing up for their rights, they're getting picked off by their management”, said RMT Regional Organiser Steve Hedley. “It took the police a full 24 hours to decide that the person was actually allowed to stay in the country.”

Cleaning workers' struggles have become a prominent feature on the landscape of class struggle in the capital; they demonstrate clearly the way in which bosses will use immigration laws as a weapon of class warfare. But they also show that even the most vulnerable and hyper-exploited groups of workers can take action and win victories.

After a long struggle involving several strikes, cleaners on the London Underground (many of whom work for contractors like Initial and ISS) secured an across-the-board “living wage” — still low, but a significant improvement on the pay they previously received.

A long campaign at University College London has also recently seen it become the latest London university to pay its cleaners the London living wage, which is currently £7.85 an hour. The bullying and intimidation of worker-activists was a feature of that campaign, too, which included the sacking of Juan Carlos Piedra Benitez, who worked for cleaning contractor Office & General, in 2009.

A range of activists are also involved in an ongoing campaign of solidarity with cleaning workers, many migrant workers, in Sweden who are in conflict with the Berns Salonger nightclub in Stockholm. The cleaners, who are organised by the syndicalist SAC (Central Organisation of the Workers of Sweden), have been involved in a months-long campaign of picketing against Berns in protest at inhumane hours and barbaric conditions.

The Cleaners' Defence Committee, a grouping made up predominantly of revolutionaries of various stripes along with anti-borders activists, has taken the lead in coordinating solidarity with the Swedish cleaners, along with the IWW.

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