LSE Cleaners struggle and win

June 2017 began for me with three protests related to the campaign by cleaners at the LSE. At the start of the month I wrote:

After 8 months of their campaign for equality the LSE have only offered derisory concessions and are refusing to recognise the UVW and and hold sensible talks with them, or to reinstate a sacked worker.

and I went to the LSE to photograph the sixth and seventh days they were on strike.  On both days the cleaners had been there since early in the morning, forming a picket line to lobby workers coming to work to try and persuade them to support the strike. There are strict rules limiting the activities of pickets, putting a limit on numbers (I think a maximum of 6) and what they can do, but the union can also hold rallies and protests so long as these are clearly not a part of the picket, and supporters came to these on both days.

This was a campaign I’d been involved with from the start, having been invited to photograph the initial meeting last year when cleaners and students decided to work together, and it had led to some interesting events, but I’d rather hoped – doubtless with the cleaners – that the campaign would have ended rather sooner.  Noonan and the LSE were obviously hoping they would wear the cleaners down, and losing seven days pay is a considerable hardship for people who don’t have enough to live on to start with, though there was a strike fund with donations from other trade union branches and individuals that will probably have alleviated the worst of the hardship.

United Voices of the World is a small grass-roots union, run on a shoestring from members subscriptions and donations from supporters. It’s total annual staff costs for 2016 were under £10,000  and its legal fees slightly greater.  But it has taken on organisations that have budgets in billions and won, and it was great to hear later in the month that they had reached a successful settlement with the LSE and employer Noonan, and it was good to be able to attend and photograph their victory party.

It’s hard to know how much the protests by Life Not Money at the LSE’  contributed to the LSE’s decision to settle the dispute, though they were certainly a noisy embarrassment which added to the pressure to settle.

It’s difficult as a photographer to keep photographing a whole series of essentially similar events, and to take pictures which are fresh.  There may be an infinite number of ways to photograph people blowing vuvuzelas and holding posters, but they do tend to look rather similar when it is the same people and often in the same places. I guess it is a challenge, and one I haven’t always been too successful at, though it does help when the people are as interesting as some of the students and cleaners involved in this long-running protest. And there were a few little incidents that kept up my interest at most of the events I photographed.

So of course I was delighted to hear that a further protest had been called off because the cleaners demands had been accepted by the LSE and Noonan (although it took a little longer for one outstanding matter, the illegal sacking of a worker to also be settled.) And pleased to be invited and able to attend the victory celebration where the LSE students awarded the cleaners  ‘Masters of Arts’ certificates with First Class Honours in Justice and Dignity.

LSE Cleaners strike for equality
LSE Cleaners strike Day 7
Street Theatre against LSE Inequality
LSE Cleaners Victory Party


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