Cleaning staff at the London School of Economics are taking unprecedented strike action for two days on 15-16th March in their fight for decent pay and conditions. The strike follows a 100% vote for action amongst the workers, who are demanding equal terms with other LSE staff in relation to annual leave, pensions, and maternity/paternity pay.
Currently the cleaning staff at LSE - all of whom are migrant workers or ethnic minorities - are outsourced to the exploitative company, Noonan. Workers on the picket line reported that Noonan does the "dirty work" for LSE management, using intimidation to force workers into doing unpaid overtime and victimising those who dare question any injustices.
Those on the picket line explained how Noonan and LSE have been intransigent in relation to the cleaners’ (very basic) demands for equality and justice, which are:
- Parity of basic terms and conditions of employment with the rest of the LSE community, such as annual leave entitlement, sick pay, maternity/paternity/adoption leave pay, and pension.
- A review of their workloads with the aim of reducing them.
- A review of the disciplinary proceedings used against them to make sure they are fair and proportionate.
- The reinstatement of their colleague Alba Pasmino, who was unlawfully and unnecessarily sacked with two days’ notice after 12 years of service.
The bosses and management have repeatedly refused to meet the cleaning workers and their union representatives for negotiations to settle the dispute, pushing the cleaners to take this historic strike action. Meanwhile, Julia Black, the LSE’s Interim Director, has an annual pay packed of £250,000 per year, and LSE as an institution has a turnover of over £300million per year – and yet these fat cats have the audacity to call the cleaners’ demands “unreasonable”!
Mildred, the most longstanding cleaner at LSE, spoke to a rally of students and staff on the picket line, called by the Justice for Cleaners LSE campaign in support of the strike. Mildred described the brutal conditions imposed on her and other cleaning staff at LSE, including long, unsociable hours, and the pathetic sick pay offered by Noonan, which means that many of the cleaners have no choice but to work when they are ill.
As slogans on banners correctly stated: these workers are not the dirt they clean – and with this strike action, their voices are finally being heard. Indeed, after the lunchtime rally, workers and students marched together to the LSE management offices, where a sit down protest and chanting made the demands of the cleaners loud and clear. As one placard asserted: we are no longer invisible!
Now organised within the United Voices of the World (UVW) union, the LSE cleaners are fighting back against LSE and Noonan bosses. The strike is well supported by the students at LSE, with many (including members of the LSE Marxist society) involved in helping to publicise the cleaners' campaign and to organise outreach activities during the strike days.
The militant action being taken by the cleaners at LSE follows on from similar action in recent years amongst exploited staff at SOAS, KCL, and ULU. In many of these cases, smaller unions such as the UVW and the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) have stepped in, with larger unions unwilling to take the bold steps needed to organise precarious and migrant workers and fight for their demands.
The example of the LSE cleaners - and their campaign alongside students and other staff - shows the way forward in the fight against exploitation in the workplace. The task now is for the leaders of the major trade unions to show similar audacity and resolve in fighting for the needs of the working class as a whole - against the bosses, against the Tories, and against their rotten system.
- Justice for the LSE cleaners! For fair pay and decent conditions!
- No to outsourcing and exploitation!
- Workers and students: unite and fight!