Garden Halls Protest at Senate House

There is a kind of controlled chaos that I like about this image, which I think is typical of the protests by the IWGB, the small grass-roots trade union that has been far more active – and far more successful – than the large trade unions in promoting the rights of London’s lowest paid workers, and in getting many of them the London Living Wage.

The Garden Halls are three intercollegiate halls of residence – for students for any of the various colleges that make up London University – which are on a street in Bloomsbury called Cartwright Gardens. The university is renovating and enlarging them – or rather handing them over to a private firm (with a name that makes it sound like it is a part of the university) who will do so and then run them, increasing the fees to students to get their money back. It doesn’t look like a good deal for students, and it certainly isn’t for the various staff who work in them, who are all being made redundant. Of course their jobs will not be there for the year or two years while the building work is taking place, but there are other sites where they could be found employment during that time, but the employers have refused to look at this possibility.

Although many of the cleaners, porters, catering and maintenance staff have worked for the university for years (decades in some cases) they are not employed directly by the University by by private firms who the university contracts. The university gets their labour on the cheap and the firms shareholders get profits while the workers get low pay, poor conditions of employment and often spectacularly bad management practices.

 

Pressure over recent years by the workers at the Garden Halls and some other colleges, backed by the IWGB, students and a few college branches of larger unions has led to some improvements in conditions and pay for them. But these gains will be lost even if the redundant workers are offered alternative employment at other workplaces by the contractors. The IWGB tried to negotiate to get better treatment for the staff but both the contractors and London University refuse to recognise them or engage in proper talks, and at the time of this protest they workers (the great majority members of the IWGB) were balloting for strike action.

The workers in the halls and in the colleges have received considerable support from students and the student union in particular – to which London University have responded by deciding to close down the University of London Union.

As on several previous protests at Senate House, the protesters made an attempt to go inside the building, but this time the security staff were ready, and after a brief tug of war managed to close the doors. My pictures are a little blurred, partly because it was fairly dark in the doorway, but also because in the confused situation I was getting pushed around quite a bit.  But even at ISO3200 I was working at 1/25th of a second with the 16-35mm wide open at f4.

More pictures and about what happened at Defend UoL Garden Halls workers.



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My London Diary : Buildings of London : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

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