Cleaners deserve a living wage

I rather like the effect of the diverging verticals in this image, though its something I try to use sparingly. But it seems in this image to lead the eye down to the subject in the centre of this ultra-wide image, Cleaners from the United Voices of the World union protesting for a living wage and for fairness in the way they are treated by their managers on the 10th day of their strike.

As a documentary photographer and a journalist I hold dearly to the principles of recording events accurately; our work has to retain its integrity to be of any worth. That does sometimes require keeping a certain distance, needing to be careful not to interfere in the events I’m photographing. But although that means I won’t hold the banner or blow the horn, it doesn’t mean that I don’t have a point of view, and any set of photographs is to a certain degree subjective.

I wouldn’t be here photographing this protest if I didn’t think that all workers have a right to proper treatment and a living wage, and that it was important. Our major media outlets don’t think strikes and protests like this are news and are unlikely to publish my pictures, but I disagree.

It is a dispute that involves issues which are vital about how we live together, issues of fairness and equality, and ones that are brought sharply into focus here, at the centre of one of the world’s great financial centres, the City of London, by the naked greed of some of the wealthiest people and companies in the world.

And the response of the employers to the cleaners claims for a decent wage and proper treatment? To take them to court and try and get an injunction against them striking, probably spending as much or more on that as it would have cost to come to a sensible settlement.

The court made things worse, although turning down the injunction against striking, by imposing conditions on picketing (a practice already well covered by law) but also by imposing legal costs on the cleaners’ union which were actually greater than the total assets of the union, a grass roots organisation totally funded by the subscriptions its low paid members. ┬áIt was a striking demonstration of how our legal system, despite its ideals, is a system for the rich and institutionally biased against the poor.

At the end of the protest outside the offices at 100 Wood St (at a distance carefully measured to meet the terms of the injunction) the cleaners and supporters marched off to protest outside the office of the building management company CBRE, the largest commercial real estate company in the world, who manage the building for the richest man in Europe, Amancio Ortega (and the companies whose offices it houses include Schroders and J P Morgan) though the dirty work of managing the cleaners badly and paying them poorly is outsourced to a small cleaning company.

It got rather crowded around the entrances to the CBRE offices, which is where the full-frame 16mm fisheye came in useful (corrected as usual with Fisheye-Hemi.) When I’m using it for landscape or architecture I usually take great care to keep the lens upright, where I work with it using the built in markers of the D810, when small triangles at centre right and centre bottom of the frame show you have the camera straight and level, but there isn’t the time or need to be so precise when photographing protests, and the D700 used for these pictures lacks this feature.

UVW Wood St Strike Day 10



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