Outsourced workers at a government office in central London rounded off three days of strikes on Wednesday, in their latest battle over pay.
Cleaners, security workers and other support staff at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Beis) struck to demand an end to low wages.
They also want their bosses—private contractor ISS—to improve their working conditions and pay bonuses for working during lockdown.
One striker, Julian—not his real name—told Socialist Worker, “We’ve got lots of angry people here.
“There haven’t been many civil servants in the building during the pandemic and sometimes it felt as if there were too many cleaners. It seemed too much for us to take the bus to come here. It just seemed like it was an administrative thing to get us to come in.”
He added, “We also want sick pay from day one. If I do get sick, I want to be able to go off.”
The workers, members of the PCS union, previously struck in 2019 to demand the London Living Wage—and won. But inflation has increased since then—and their pay has not.
“We don’t want a pay freeze,” said Julian. “It’s like the NHS workers. I was on the march for them the other day. They’ve been offered a pay rise but it could only be 3 percent. What’s that? It’s nothing.”
He added, “Someone on the picket line said there are other fights like ours going on as well—cleaners in the Royal Parks and on the Tube. So it feels like our fight is part of something.”
The strike has already forced ISS bosses to agree to talks and give in to some demands. But Julian said strikers won’t give in.
A PCS rep told the picket line on Wednesday that ISS had claimed Beis hadn’t agreed to provide enough funding. But she said Beis had told the union this isn’t true.
She added that PCS still says that Beis is to blame as all outsourced workers should be brought back in house.
“They allowed this contractor in the building,” she said. “They had an option in 2019 to bring you all back in house but they refused.”
The strikers are determined. Picket lines have large and loud, with 50 people—almost all of the workforce—joining it on the first day.
Workers told Socialist Worker they’re ready to strike again. “We won’t stop until all our demands are met,” said one.
They know they won once and they can win again. “Even if I wasn’t striking for myself I’d be striking for the security guards, “ said Julian.
“It’s great putting us all together like this. When we come out we feel we have the power of the union behind us.”