Socialist Worker

London School of Economics cleaners strike for equality

by Alistair Farrow
Issue No. 2554

On strike for dignity and proper treatment

On strike for dignity and proper treatment (Pic: Shiri Shalmy)


Outsourced cleaners at the London School of Economics (LSE) struck yesterday, Thursday, in their battle for the same pay and conditions as similar directly-employed workers.

Over 60 people came out for an early morning protest to give the picketing a flying start.

“The protest this morning went well,” striker Mildred told Socialist Worker. “This strike is bigger than the last one because more people can see through the management’s lies.”

The workers are part of the United Voices of the World (UVW) union. They have faced down management threats and derisory offers put forward in an attempt to get them to call of the action.

The cleaners currently get the statutory minimum sick pay, maternity and paternity pay.

A deal was put forward—and rejected—just before the strike. It had emerged after talks between LSE management, the Unison union and Noonan, the firm cleaning is outsourced to.

Although UVW represents more workers, LSE chooses to negotiate with Unison.

Holiday

The proposed deal was the third offered and included 20 days of sick pay at full pay and another 20 at half pay. It would also see workers get 31 days holiday, an increase of three days from the statutory minimum.

“A lot of the cleaners are looking at the negotiations as a joke,” UVW general secretary Petros Elia told Socialist Worker. “If they want to negotiate about sick pay, we should be talking in terms of months, not days.”

The LSE has attempted to cast itself in the role of a reasonable intermediary between a militant union and an intransigent outsourcer. But it has known about the cleaners’ concerns from day one.

The decisive factor has been the strength of the campaign, which was kicked off by a big meeting last August.

“Our numbers are increasing,” cleaner Kinkena told Socialist Worker. “They used to say we were in the minority, well we’re not any more.

“They are playing games with us. They knew what we were asking for months ago. Now they come each week with a revised offer. They’re just trying to buy time.”

Students at the university are supporting the workers by organising breakfasts at 8am when most of them finish their shifts. They hold fortnightly Justice for Cleaners student group meetings.

“The biggest thing that grew the campaign was the strike in March,” Anash Coker told Socialist Worker. “There’s not much of a campus feeling here so having a lively picket line brought people in.”

“We’ll keep striking until we get a proper offer,” said Kinkena. “And we want it now, not in two years time.”

The next strike is scheduled for Thursday, 17 May. 


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