Socialist Worker

Striking cleaners take on KCL bosses

by Alistair Farrow
Issue No. 2538

KCL cleaners on the picket line

KCL cleaners on the picket line (Pic: Socialist Worker)


Cleaners at Kings College London (KCL) began a 48-hour strike today, Thursday, in response to massive workloads and understaffing. Over 90 workers are employed by outsourced contractor Servest.

Jubilant picket lines at different sites celebrated sending a clear message to both KCL and Servest management. The members of the Unison union delivered a magnificent 98 percent vote for strikes.

Outside the Strand campus strikers listened to speeches and danced to salsa music.

Some of them talked to Socialist Worker about the change in their working conditions since Servest took over the cleaning contract at KCL two years ago.

"We’ve been suffering ever since,” said Othelia. “We tried to fix the problem with the company but they don’t listen. That’s why we’re out today.”

Martha agreed, describing how low staffing levels and high workloads means that no one has the time to cover for other people. “If we go on holiday, when we come back the place is dirty,” she said. “Everyone is so overworked that no one takes extra hours.”

“I work at the Drury Lane building in the morning,” said Elizabeth. “It’s six floors and there’s just two of us to clean the whole place in four hours. One year ago we lost four people from the building and they weren’t replaced.”

Pressure

But, she added, “The other staff support us because they see the pressure we’re under—they see how the standard of cleaning is going down because of the cuts to staffing.”

Bosses might think that outsourcing cleaners, who are largely migrant workers, won’t win solidarity from other workers.

But that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Martha told Socialist Worker, “Members of staff are supporting us. When I told them about the strike they said, ‘Bring a solidarity letter for us to sign and we’ll sign it and circulate it.’”

Students are also organising to bring solidarity on to the picket lines. Martha told Socialist Worker that she thought “70 to 80 percent of students support us.”

KCL student Lucia agreed, “We started up a support group two weeks ago and there’s already been quite a lot of interest. We want to link up with the other student support groups for the different cleaners’ campaigns that are happening at different central London universities.”

All of the strikers Socialist Worker spoke to are up for more strikes if management don’t start to listen to their concerns. Meetings are planned for after this round of strikes finish to plan the next steps.

Elizabeth summed up the cleaners’ frustrations, “We need more cleaners, never before was it dirty like it is now. But instead we’re getting more supervisors and managers! So we’re losing cleaners but getting more bosses.”


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