Cleaners and caterers at the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (Beis) began an all-out indefinite strike this week.
It’s a big escalation in a fight by low-paid, mostly migrant workers to win a better wage.
The PCS union members walked out of their central London office to cheers from supporters at 12 noon on Monday. They’ve been fighting since January to get bosses at outsourcers ISS and Aramark to pay them the London Living Wage of £10.50 an hour.
Shouting, chanting and blowing plastic horns, they sent a message to their bosses—“We’ve had enough.”
Striker Marline told Socialist Worker, “It’s a bit hard to come out indefinitely. But we’ve been striking since January—in, out, in, out—and nothing changed.
“So we decided—we’re fighting this.”
Roman, a cleaner, said, “We’re going to go out and leave them inside with the mess. But we’re going out to deliver the message.”
Strikers spoke of the difficulty of living in London on poverty pay.
“Living in London is struggling,” said Marline. “Sometimes you think, what’s the point of coming to work?
“Costs go up every year—train costs, gas, electricity. You come into work and you can’t pay your rent.”
Strikers are demanding to be brought back in house. It’s a fight that seems to be spreading across the civil service.
Cleaners at HMRC tax offices in Bootle and Liverpool struck on Monday and Tuesday of this week to demand a minimum of £10 an hour. They also work for ISS.
And outsourced cleaners, porters and maintenance workers at the Foreign and Commonwealth office have also struck over pay.
Ana, a leading striker, told a strike rally in London, “It is a disgrace the way they treat us. We get up at five in the morning to come into work and be treated like dogs.
“We have colleagues who nearly became homeless because ISS is not paying its staff—shame on you ISS, shame on you Aramark.
“We are the ones who make you rich—we are the ones who do the labour. You don’t care about your staff, you just care about how much money we can put in your pockets.”
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka told strikers, “Our pledge is that we stand with you as long as it takes.”
And Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell said, “I’ve been on the picket line throughout the dispute and will be again until you win.”
Ana told Socialist Worker strikers are determined to hit their bosses hard. “They are not listening to us.
“So this time we are going deeper, and deeper and deeper.”
A round-up of workplace struggles
A round-up of transport workers’ struggles