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Strikers at the Foreign Office vow to fight on as latest phase of action comes to an end

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The latest phase of action at the Foreign Office is ending, but the battle is not over, says Nick Clark
Issue 2693
Foreign office strikers wearing Dominic Raab masks at a demo in Waterloo
Foreign office strikers wearing Dominic Raab masks at a demo in Waterloo (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Striking workers at the Foreign Office were set to end a month-long strike on Friday of this week as determined as when they started.

The outsourced staff—cleaners and maintenance workers—have been battling bosses at private

contractor Interserve for almost a year. They are demanding that bosses recognise their PCS union after a raft of attacks on their pay, jobs and conditions.

Now—after their longest stretch of action yet—some of them say they have to escalate even further to win.

“We’re not going to go away,” Anne, a cleaner told Socialist Worker. “We’ll keep going. We’re going to carry on until we win.”

Anne was one of those who protested outside Interserve’s offices in Waterloo, south London, on Wednesday of last week.

The noisy picket lines in Whitehall, central London, throughout the strike have already annoyed the top dogs at the Foreign Office.

“We’ve already had complaints about the vuvuzelas,” striker Simon said. “So we’re pissing them off.

“Waterloo is where the boss of Interserve works,” he added. “He won’t like this.”

The strikers’ battle began shortly after the government renewed Interserve’s contract with the Foreign Office in late 2018.

Interserve bosses then launched a steady assault that drove their workers to do more for less pay.

Overtime

For cleaners, that meant having their overtime scrapped—something that topped up their wages and gave them enough time to do the job.

Bosses also scrapped workers’ entitlement to company sick pay, and changed pay dates—leaving many of them out of pocket. Yet attempts to squeeze conditions also pushed them together.

Terry, a PCS rep, told Socialist Worker how bosses closed all but one of the workers’ break rooms. But with workers all together, they organised to join the union and demand a strike.

Now bosses want to break that up.

“They’re talking about bringing in staggered lunch breaks, and closing our mess room and putting us into a shoebox right by their office,” said Terry. “It’s to keep an eye on us.

“When we had one big mess room we are all together. I think that’s what upset them.

“They gave us the idea that we all muck in together, and we’ve all unionised in one room.”

The strikers were set to march in Whitehall on Wednesday of this week.

As well as taking on Interserve, they want Tory foreign secretary Dominic Raab to take responsibility and intervene. Many of the strikers wore masks of Raab’s face on the protest in Waterloo.

But with neither the government nor Interserve budging, strikers are gearing up to go again.

“Everyone’s still up for it,” Simon told Socialist Worker. “We’re all still raring to go.

“It’s going to have to be at least the same length, longer—or even indefinite.”

Some workers’ names have been changed. Send messages of support to [email protected]

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