Cleaners and caterers from London and Liverpool marched together on Tuesday, uniting their battles over low pay and outsourcing.
Workers from HMRC tax offices in Liverpool and Bootle marched on the second day of a three-day strike—joined in solidarity by strikers from London.
The London workers—cleaners and caterers from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Beis)—are into the fifth week of an indefinite strike.
Both sets of strikers—members of the PCS union—are fighting for a living wage and an end to outsourcing.
And both are employed by outsourcers ISS and Aramark.
One striker from Liverpool, Angela, told Socialist Worker about their fight for £10 an hour—and what it’s like to live on the current rate of £8.21.
“It’s terrible,” she said. “It’s disgusting. £8.21 wouldn’t even buy you a packet of cigarettes.
“It wouldn’t even buy you a tin of baby milk if you have a new born baby.”
Angela added that on top of that, the cleaners only get statutory sick pay. “That’s no good when you’re off sick,” she said.
And she said they were also demanding extra holiday.
“We only get 20 days a year, which isn’t fair when the people who work for HMRC get 30 days,” said Angela.
Liverpool and Bootle strikers said that bosses at ISS hadn’t yet budged—and instead brought in other workers from the agency to break the strike.
But one striker, Maria, said, “We’ve got to keep striking.
“You can’t come out for three days and just give up. You’ve got to keep going until you win.”
And Angela said the visit by the strikers from Beis had been “great moral support”.
“Some of us went down to visit them the other week,” she added. “More of us couldn’t go because we couldn’t get the time off. It shows we’re not alone—that it’s happening all over the country.”
Roman, one of the strikers from Beis, told Socialist Worker that five weeks into the strike workers were still ready to carry on.
“Even if some people say they want to be back at work because of the money, they know we’ve got to carry on because when we get the pay rise it will be worth it,” he said.
He also said it was important to keep striking because their struggle was about much more than a fight in one government department.
“It’s important because low pay and outsourcing isn’t just happening here,” he said. “It’s happening in universities, schools and hospitals.
“It’s good for us to come here because it shows us we’re not on our own—it’s not just about something happening in one building in London, it’s happening everywhere.
“And coming here puts us in a better position. If we’re fighting for the same thing, we all have to fight for it together.”
Put an end to outsourcing
Both sets of strikers also want an end to outsourcing and to be brought back in house—employed directly by their departments.
Speaking to a strike rally in Liverpool, one Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Beis) worker said, “We work in the same building as people employed by Beis.
“But we don’t get the same respect as our colleagues do.”
And Maria, a striker from Liverpool, told Socialist Worker, “We want the same terms and conditions as the HMRC employees we work with.”
She added, “It’s like we’re invisible in that building.
“We hardly see our manager from ISS, and when he comes in he doesn’t even acknowledge us.
“Our supervisor never hears the results of the audits. We don’t get any respect.”
Another Liverpoool striker, Angela, added, “It would be better to be employed by HMRC.
“It cuts out the middle person—and they would save money. They wouldn’t have to pay public money to a private company to pay us.