Cleaners at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (Soas) began a three-day strike on Monday of this week. The action was part of the “3 Cosas” or three demands campaign – sick pay, holiday pay and pensions.
Previous strikes forced cleaning firms to concede to these demands. But now the workers are striking in support of their colleagues in nearby halls of residence who face the dole when the halls are demolished.
The current demand is that they are given jobs elsewhere within the company and that their IWGB union receives official recognition.
“El Comandante” Robinson is one of those leading the strikes at Soas. He said the current struggle is just the latest stage in a seven-year struggle for a better standard of living.
“When the ‘3 Cosas’ campaign began the workers were not organised,” said Robinson. “Cleaners were isolated and many spoke little or no English. The cleaning companies took advantage of these difficult conditions to exploit, mistreat and discriminate against cleaning staff.
“Bullying bosses could sack people without any justification, a situation described by one striker as ‘modern slavery’.”
Robinson explained that the “3 Cosas” campaign, which began two years ago, changed this. “Workers had received a poverty wage of £6.15 an hour,” he said. “But the strikes forced a pay rise to the Living Wage of £8.80. “The campaign also unionised many workers.”
But importantly, the campaign has also transformed the way workers think about themselves. “Before this fight we had lost faith in ourselves and our ability to resist,” he said. “We had lost our dignity. “But now workers are determined to fight until they win.”