Workers at Soas University of London were celebrating after their outsourcing to private firms officially ended and they became directly employed by the university on Wednesday.
It came one year after management at the university announced the facilities contract would be brought back in-house. And the Justice for Workers campaign called it a “special day for all the outsourced workers of Soas”.
It is a major breakthrough in an 11-year battle by workers in the Unison union that has seen strikes and protests shut down the university and shame the bosses.
Cleaners—many of them migrant workers—have been at the forefront of the 120-strong facilities’ workers fight.
They waged a political war against Soas management and received mass support from students and workers. A 2012 referendum showed that 98 percent of students and workers supported the demand to end outsourcing.
But workers’ collective organisation, including strikes and protests, has been the key to winning. “This is the triumph of those who have understood that the only way to end injustice is through collective, organised and persevering struggle”, the campaign said.
Strikes won them the London Living Wage in 2008—and further action gained improved sick pay, holiday pay and pensions in 2014.
Bosses tried to break their resolve through intimidation and victimisation. In June 2009, nine cleaners were deported after immigration officers raided a meeting organised by outsourcer ISS.
But the blame lies squarely with Soas management, who dragged their feet for over a decade and attempted to outsource the exploitation to other companies.
The campaign said the university “allowed the exploitation, persecution and abuse by companies in carrying out the school’s most essential functions”. And it did it “with an indifferent look and contempt towards workers, mostly migrants.”
Workers are determined to continue the fight for improved pay and conditions and “strengthen our union struggle to face the new challenges”.
“Working for Soas does not mean that we have solved all our labour problems”, said the campaign.
“And an unequal labour relationship always implies that whoever holds the power will find excuses and pretexts to subvert legality and justice.”
The Soas outsourcing struggle should be an inspiration to every trade unionist and campaigner fighting back against privatisation.
Their fight also exposes the racist myth that migrants lower wages and conditions in a race to the bottom. By organising collectively, as migrant workers did at Soas, they push up wages and terms and conditions.
The David and Goliath-like struggle against Soas bosses show workers can fight and win in even the most difficult of circumstances.
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