Socialist Worker

Migrant cleaners walk out for equal rights at Soas

by Raymie Kiernan
Issue No. 2393

strikers and supporters at Soas on Tuesday

Strikers and supporters at Soas on Tuesday, including Armando (centre with airhorn) (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Cleaners at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (Soas) began a 48-hour strike on Tuesday of this week after a 100 percent vote for action.

The fight is over sick pay, holidays and pensions.

The Unison union members are migrant workers mainly from Latin America and are employed by outsourcing giant ISS. 

Well over 100 cleaners and their supporters swelled the picket line.

They have fought private contractors for many years, first for union recognition and the London Living Wage. Now their fight is for parity with workers directly employed by Soas.

Soas cleaner Armando told Socialist Worker, “This is about getting dignity as workers and respect for our working conditions. 

“When they deny our rights like this it’s like working in slavery.”

Alexa, another cleaner, said, “We are all workers. We are the same. Why should we be treated differently?

“We are told in Britain everyone is supposed to be equal but the bosses abuse us by not paying better wages. That’s why we are fighting.”

Cleaner Victor said he hoped the strike would make people more aware of the issue of outsourcing and how to resist it.

He said, “We are suffering from these big companies breaching our rights as workers. 

“We are mothers and fathers with families to care for. We are getting older and we want the same rights as others to a decent pension.”

Soas was severely disrupted by support for the strike with very few classes taking place.  Hundreds of workers and students refused to cross picket lines. 

Delegations visited from the RMT, PCS, Unison, UCU unions and a Prospect union member from the Health and Safety Executive. 

They delivered solidarity cards and workplace collections. The solidarity has boosted the confidence of the cleaners to fight ISS bosses.

Soas Unison branch secretary Sandy Nichol said, “What’s so important about this dispute is that a group usually thought of as vulnerable migrant workers are fighting back and showing what is possible if you organise.”

Armando said, “They want to blame migrants for the economic crisis but it’s the big corporations who are to blame. 

"Why should we suffer for their racism? Resistance is important. We can’t let them scapegoat and take advantage of us.”

Send messages of solidarity to an2@soas.ac.uk
Make a donation to the cleaners’ strike fund bit.ly/1g7poJ1

 


If you enjoy Socialist Worker, please consider giving to our annual appeal to make sure we can maintain and develop our online and print versions of Socialist Worker. Go here for details and to donate.

Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.