By Raymie Kiernan
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Cleaners revolt sweeps London university campuses

This article is over 7 years, 3 months old
Issue 2446
cleaners protest outside the School of Oriental and African Studies
cleaners protest outside the School of Oriental and African Studies (Pic: Guy Smallman)

A small revolt is beginning at a clutch of London’s universities as migrant workers fight to improve their terms and conditions.

Staff at the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS), London School of Economics, King’s College London, University College London and University of East London (UEL)are fighting back. 

Carlos is a Unison union cleaners’ rep at UEL. He told Socialist Worker, “We are on the London Living Wage but we want to improve our conditions. 

“There are about 60 of us across the Stratford and Docklands campuses on short term contracts and we do not get paid during the holidays.”

Many have drawn confidence from last year’s cleaners’ campaign against outsourcing giant ISS at the School of Oriental and African Studies (Soas) in central London.  

“Soas are an inspiration to us,” said Carlos. “First they won the London Living Wage then improved sick pay, pensions and holidays. We want to learn from them.”

But he said it was important to keep up the solidarity as ISS is trying to claw back the Soas cleaners’ gains. Up to 100 joined a protest there last week.

Workers say ISS wants to bar current Soas cleaners from applying for any new vacancies because they want to employ new staff on worse contracts. 

They also say they must be fluent in English. While Soas management say this is untrue, workers are demanding the company puts it in writing.


Consuelo has been a leading figure in the struggle at Soas and is a Unison rep. She told Socialist Worker, “Soas cleaners are very experienced at their jobs and ISS has no excuse not to offer positions to them.

“The company is discriminating against us and trying to intimidate and divide us.” 

The cleaners are determined to continue their fight. That spirit is infecting other workplaces. Stefano is a cleaner at RCS. He told Socialist Worker, “We clean lots of rooms that they hire out to businesses for events and parties, as well as a hotel attached to the college. They only pay us the minimum wage.”

He said they work many unsocial hours. “We have to do it because we need the money.”

Stefano said they have built the union from just four members last August to a group of 22 cleaners and domestic workers. Now they are demanding the London Living Wage, sick pay and holiday pay at Christmas.

The Soas struggle has become a beacon of what is possible. And it exposes the lie that migrants drive down wages. 

Consuelo said, “It’s great others are inspired by our fight. They came to support us, now we are going to support their fight.”

Unison union organiser Ezequiel Kramer told Socialist Worker, “The workers are starting to realise that this is about a class struggle and are looking beyond nationalities.

“They can see they have a shared interest in linking with other groups of workers fighting for justice at work and the possibility it can be done if they fight.”

Some workers’ names have been changed

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