The Struggle Continues…

It’s hard to cover events that keep on and on and try to produce images that look fresh and different, but sometimes important to do so. The Wood St strike by cleaners in the United Voices of the World was a good example, and at the end of June had reached its 22nd day.

I hadn’t of course been there every day, though the pickets had been, but this was my fourth visit on days when the union had decided to hold a special rally, this marking the fourth week of their strike. While the UVW and other unions have held one or two day strikes, the UVW say this is the first indefinite strike in the City of London, and it looked as if it would continue for some time, with the direct employers Thames Cleaning having taken an extremely hard line, going to court to try stop the strike and getting an injunction covering the union’s actions, the costs of which came close to bankrupting the union, and Thames apparently getting the uncritical backing of the company that runs the offices, CBRE.

The picketing and rallies present an embarrassment to CBRE, but also, along with the lack of proper cleaning (though doubtless Thames were trying their best to keep things going though their managers and non-striking cleaners) were building up pressure on CBRE from the people who work in the offices and the well-known companies they worked for. Just because these city workers are themselves very well paid doesn’t mean they don’t have sympathy for those who are badly paid – and who they know they rely on to keep their workplace pleasant, and many had taken the leaflets from the strikers and some expressed their support.

Publication of articles and pictures about the strike – even on the web and in the alternative press, but particularly when the story gets picked up my newspapers and TV stations disturb these powerful companies – and they put pressure on those they pay for office space who in turn dictate to the actual employers. CBRE are paying Thames and can and will in the end tell them to pipe down and come to an agreement with the UVW that will eventually end the strike – as they did around a month later. One new aspect which might have helped the strike get more publicity was the threat by on of the sacked workers to go on hunger strike.

While I try hard to ensure my coverage of the events keeps to the facts, the very fact that I and other journalists are there and covering them is important in uncovering injustice, to me one of the vital roles of a free press. Its news that should be published, even if most of the media ignores it most of the time, often in favour of trivia. And the presence of the media does sometimes appear to improve the behaviour of both security staff and police.

There is no doubt that low pay and the increasing inequality of our society is an important topic, and it is actions like this that help put it on the national agenda – so much so that even a Conservative government recently felt it had to introduce a “Living Wage”, even though this was largely an evasion, well below an actual Living Wage, particularly in London. The figures for the living wage are readily available, published annually, but ignored by then Chancellor George Osborne.

UVW Wood St Strike continues


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

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