Socialist Worker

Soas cleaners strike to demand equal rights

by Raymie Kiernan
Issue No. 2395

The picket line at Soas, University of London

The picket line at Soas, University of London (Pic: Socialist Worker)


Cleaners at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (Soas) were on strike today, Friday, in a long-running campaign against their employer, outsourcing giant ISS.

The workers, who are members of the Unison union, are demanding improved sick pay, holidays and pensions – they want equality with other workers at Soas.

It is their second strike this month. Cleaners’ union rep Luis Armando told Socialist Worker, “Our action is stronger this time – now we represent 100 percent of the cleaners at Soas. Before our first strike it was 90 percent.

“ISS hoped they could stop the strike from happening this week by offering us five extra holiday days a year and one sick day a month but this does not meet our demands.

“They said nothing about pensions. Their offer is rubbish – that’s why we unanimously rejected it and voted to keep our strike on.”

Other Soas workers receive 30 days holiday a year, receive sick pay from the first day they are off sick and can join a pension scheme that covers all of the colleges in the University of London. This is what the cleaners are fighting for.

Their strikes have shown that the university cannot run properly without them, and the wider solidarity from Soas workers and students has had a bigger impact.

“The strike is solid again,” Soas Unison assistant branch secretary Ezequiel Kramer told Socialist Worker.

Student

“The student union is closed and the library ran a reduced service. Soas management have tried to divide students from the cleaners. They hoped by making students cross the cleaners’ picket line to hand in their essays it could break the unity that exists.”

Ezequiel said management’s refusal to provide an alternative essay hand-in method for students backfired. Students occupied Soas director Paul Webley’s suite last night in response.

Trade unionists brought collections to the picket line from Barnet trades council, London Met UCU and from Unison members at London Fire Authority, Housing Associations branch, King's College and Tower Hamlets.

Around 100 supporters gathered at a lunchtime rally for speeches, salsa and dancing. Speakers included NUT teachers’ union deputy general secretary Kevin Courtney and president of the Bfawu bakers’ union Ian Hodson.

Hodson drew comparisons with the victorious strike of Hovis workers in Wigan last year saying “we won’t allow second class workers – everyone deserves to be treated with dignity”.

Soas student union campaigns officer Georgie Robertson argued Soas management needs to “practise what it preaches” and insisted the cleaners would win. She said, “It’s thousands of us against just a few well paid managers at the top.”

Student Sunil Pun told Socialist Worker, “Soas should get rid of the middle men – ISS is just a machine pulling money out of the university – and bring the cleaners back in-house.”


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