By Sandy Nicoll, Soas Unison branch secretary (pc)
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Low paid university workers provide a lesson for the whole labour movement

This article is over 6 years, 8 months old
Issue 2567
Soas cleaners on strike in 2014
Soas cleaners on strike in 2014 (Pic: Guy Smallman)

If anyone is unsure what low paid, largely migrant workers can achieve when their union supports them, look no further than our inspirational fight at Soas—the School of Oriental and African Studies.

Cleaning, catering and security staff last week won their 11-year battle to finally end outsourcing at the London university.

As the Soas Unison union branch secretary, I’ve been proud to stand alongside them.

They faced down some of the most aggressive and exploitative outsourcing companies in Britain.

Bosses were prepared to use a variety of tactics from victimisation to deportations to break their organisation.

Demanding a Living Wage at Soas in 2007

Demanding a Living Wage at Soas in 2007 (Pic: Socialist Worker)

But the workers demanded and won support from lecturers, support staff and students.


They forged an alliance with the whole Soas community, which isolated and finally broke a university management that was determined not to concede.

Some claim that migrant workers lower wages and undermine terms and conditions.

But it is exploitative bosses together with a lack of union organisation that are responsible.

As has been the case throughout the history of the British labour movement, migrant workers can lead and inspire our class.

They’re not just vulnerable workers but fighters determined to win dignity and respect.

Soas cleaners win first round in battle for equality
Soas cleaners win first round in battle for equality
  Read More

As Soas Unison cleaners’ rep Lenin Escudero said, “We’ve shown how strong we are if we are organised and fight together for our rights.

“If we continue fighting with courage and confidence there is nothing that we cannot overcome.

“If someone still thinks that the migrant workers are not worthy then they are wrong—we already proved what we can do.

“This is a clear message for the system which represents injustice and exploitation in other workplaces.

“We are here, we will go for you, and we will beat you and win as we did in Soas university.”

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