Article and pictures by Peter Marshall – reposted with permission of the author (please click here for original article and pictures on Demotix)
Cleaners in the IWW trade union employed at the LSE under contract to Resource Group protested this lunchtime against cuts in hours and racist bullying. They were supported by LSE students and LSE trade unionists.
In January 2012, the London School of Economics (LSE) gave a new contract for its cleaning to the Resource Group, a company that claims as one of its principles that it “will work to develop our employees and future work force to build healthy lives.” According to the cleaners, the company is actually cutting their wages by giving them shorter shifts in which to do the same work, and is bullying them into signing new contracts.
The cleaners feel strongly that they have been let down by the LSE. One of them is quoted as saying ‘LSE deceived us because what is the point of paying the living wage if our hours are cut from two and a half hours to two hours.’ Another told me they wanted to cut her three hours of work down to two.
Many of the cleaners have Spanish as their first language and although they speak English find it difficult to read the language. Some told me they had been given documents in English which they could not understand changing their hours and other conditions and told they must sign or lose their jobs.
Outsourcing – as doubtless research by the LSE will have shown – almost invariably leads to lower wages and poorer working conditions for the staff involved. And although the cuts and alleged bullying is being carried out by Resource Group, the responsibility for it must lie with the LSE who are responsible for the contract with them.
At the start of the protest, the LSE facilities manager came out and talked briefly with the cleaners, and he seemed unaware of the cuts in working hours and other activities of their contractor. Towards the end of the protest which he was watching, one of the speakers challenged the LSE and him in person, and he spoke very briefly in reply, after which he went to talk to some of the cleaners who made the situation very clear to him.
At the start of the protest a representative of the various trade unions in the LSE – including the university teachers union UCU as well as those representing other staff spoke briefly in support of the cleaners. The protest was also supported by the LSE student’s union as well as those from some other colleges of London University including SOAS. Between the various speeches there were rousing performances from the samba band, particularly effective in the narrow streets surrounded by tall buildings of the LSE campus.
The protest ended earlier than planned, so as not to disturb the examinations that were taking place at the LSE, but they ended with a clear message from the IWW union that represents the cleaners that they were not prepared to accept the pay cuts and the treatment of their members as “second-class employees” and in particular the racist bullying, and the warning “We’ll be back!”