Posts Tagged ‘cleaners’

At the LSE – Sept 29, 2016

Wednesday, September 29th, 2021

I’d gone to the LSE to attend a session in the LSE’s 3-day ‘Resist’ festival organised by Lisa McKenzie, then a research fellow in the Department of Sociology there, though I imagine that this was one of several reasons her contract was not renewed. It’s OK if your work is purely academic, or if it supports the kind of people and companies that fund universities, but anything practical which supports the working classes is definitely infra-dig.

At the end of the session (more about it below) McKenzie called upon Petros Elia, General Secretary of the United Voices of the World trade union to which many of the LSE cleaners now belong. He accused the management of the LSE of failing to protect the interests of cleaners working there who they have outsourced to a cleaning contractor in a cost-cutting exercise without insisting on decent working conditions and conditions of service. He invited all present to a meeting to discuss action by the cleaners which was to be held as a part of the Resist festival later that day. I hadn’t intended to stay for that, but decided to do so.

Covid has made many re-evaluate the contributions of many low-paid workers, and to realise how essential their services are to the running of society. Cleaners are one such group and the meeting organised by the UVW made clear how terribly they were being treated by their employers, Noonan, while the LSE was happy to pocket the few pennies they were saving by outsourcing and look the other way to the injustices taking place under their own roof – while claiming the moral high ground and uncovering and moralising on those in societies around the world.

It was also a meeting which would have shattered any prejudices about low-paid workers being less intelligent, less aware or less articulate than those in higher positions. Many of them were migrant workers and speaking in their second (or third) language, though some through interpreters, but made themselves heard more clearly than the average cabinet minister in a radio or TV interview.

The cleaners’ campaign for parity of treatment with other workers employed directly was supported by students – including those on a new graduate course in Equality – and the students union General Secretary, several post-graduate students and staff. One of those present was LSE Professor of Anthropology David Graeber who so sadly died aged 59 just over a year ago and is much missed.

Students and staff continued to support the cleaners in various actions and the campaign was partly successful. The cleaners were brought in house in June 2017, but are still remained “frustrated and grieved by their continuing treatment as “second-class” workers.” A petition was launched in April 2021 making 14 demands. A major continuing problem is that the LSE does still not recognise or talk with the cleaners’ trade union, the UVW, but talks with Unison which never consults the cleaners and fails to represent many of their needs.

The earlier session of ‘Resist’ was a lengthy and detailed indictment by Simon Elmer of Architects for Social Housing of a report by a group of LSE academics on Kidbrooke Village, a development by Berkeley Homes and Southern Housing. This replaced the LCC-built Ferrier Estate in SE London, which was deliberately run-down, demonised and emptied by Greenwich Council from 1999 onwards.

Elmer accused the report of lies about the estate regeneration, of basing their report on that of the property developer and passing it off as their own, of placing the cultural legitimacy of an LSE report in the service of Government policy and the profits of Berkeley Homes and of accepting financial backing to validate the desired conclusions of their backers.

Elmer made a convincing case, but none of those responsible came to make any defence of the report, and it was hard to know whether there could have been any – though I suspect it might well have been only a matter of picking a few holes and making minor corrections to his analysis. Clearly universities should not be places where property developers or even governments call the tunes and the LSE would appear to have been caught out kowtowing to capital.

More at:
LSE Cleaners campaign launch
Simon Elmer of ASH indicts LSE


All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.


Low Pay, Lousy Conditions. 3rd Aug 2013

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2021

IWGB are harassed by Westfield security after their protest in John Lewis

The two events I covered on Saturday 3rd August 2013 both concerned the fight to get decent wages and conditions for low paid workers in London, something which has largely been left to the left wing and grass roots unions to fight for rather than the big trade unions or the Labour Party.

Outside Sports Direct in Oxford St

The two major ways that low paid workers are cruelly exploited in modern Britain are through zero-hours contracts and outsourcing, and these were at the heart of the two protests.

Security stop protesters from going down the escalator in Sports Direct

The first, at Sports Direct in Oxford St called on the company to abandon the use of zero-hour contracts which deprive all their 20,000 part-time workforce (over 85% of staff) sick pay, holiday pay and other employment rights.

The protest continues inside Sports Direct

Zero hours contracts, as I explained on My London Diary “are a peculiar legal casuistry that in essence denies the whole concept of a contract as normally understood, agreements without substance which gravely disadvantage workers … Although they give no guarantee of any income, they oblige the workers to be available for work at the employer’s whim, making it impossible for them to take on other work.”

IWGB get out flags, placards and banners on the top floor of John Lewis

All the advantages are for the employer who has a contract which imposes great constraints on workers while denying them the employment rights which are a part of normal employment and leaving them open to the whims of managers as to whether they work or not. A limited reform in 2015 prohibited terms in them which prevented people working for other employers, but if that leads to them being unable to work when the employer demands them to, they may still find their hours very much reduced in future or their contracts terminated.

And begin their protest in John Lewis in Stratford Westfield

The protest was a noisy one and after around 50 minutes handing out leaflets and speaking to shoppers on the street outside, they surged into the small street level area of the shop, where they made no attempt to push post security men who stopped them at the entry to the escalator leading down to the main store. They continued the protest inside the store being careful not to cause any damage. After around five minutes one of the police officers who were watching came to talk to one of the leading protesters and was told they would leave shortly, and after a few more minutes they did, ending the protest on the pavement a few minutes later.

They take the escalator to continue the protest on the floor below

I made my way to Stratford to join the IWGB union who were making a surprise visit to protest inside the John Lewis store in Stratford Westfield. The cleaners there are outsourced to sub-contractor ICM of the Compass Group, who had recently announced pre-tax profits for the year of £575 million. They pay the cleaners £6.72 per hour, considerably less than the London Living Wage of £8.55 an hour set by the GLA and backed by the London Mayor.

Everyone in John Lewis could hear the protest and stopped to look and listen

Outsourcing enables John Lewis to distance itself from the low pay and poor conditions of service of these workers who share the workplace with the much-lauded John Lewis ‘partners’, who as well as higher pay and better benefits, also get a share in the company’s profits, enabling John Lewis to claim it is a ‘different sort of company’ with a strong ethical basis, but still leave its cleaners – a vital part of its workforce – on poverty wages.

I met the cleaners outside Westfield and walked with them through the shopping centre to John Lewis at its far end, trying with them to look inconspicuous. In the store we went up to the cafe area on the top floor where they got out banners, placards and a large megaphone from their bags and then proceeded to walk around in a noisy protest.

They then took the escalator to the floor below and walked around that making the case for a fair deal for the cleaners to management and customers. Among those protesting (centre, above) was a man who had been a ‘partner’ in the Westfield store and was dismissed after he gave an interview to The Guardian supporting the cleaners’ case for equal treatment, and he was greeted by many of his former colleagues on the shop floor.

I get told I can’t take photographs

After protesting on each floor of the store, there were a numbber of final speeches, including one by the dismissed ‘partner’, on the ground floor before the group left, going out into the Westfield Centre in front of John Lewis. Here they were met by the centre manager and security staff who tried to stop the protest, with some pushing them (and me) around. Here I was told I was not allowed to take pictures, but took little notice. Very slowly we all made our way out of the centre by the nearest exit, still followed by Westfield security, and were met by two police officers who were told the protest was finishing.

Many more pictures at:

Cleaners in John Lewis Westfield
End Zero Hours Contracts – Sports Direct


All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.


Five Years Ago – 13th July 2016

Tuesday, July 13th, 2021

Wednesday was a busy day for me on 13th July 2016, photographing five events in London.

Cleaners at the 100 Wood St offices were still on strike against the anti-union cleaning contractor Thames Cleaning, by then the longest running industrial dispute in the history of the City of London and supporters including Unite the Resistance, the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers, Class War and others held a rally in support of the action by the United Voices of the World trade union, beginning on Wood St and then moving on to the street outside CBRE who manage the offices.

CND members and supporters had come to Parliament to lobby MPs against the plans to replace Trident at a cost of at least £205 billion, and held a ‘Mad Hatters Tea Party’ in Parliament Square where members of Faith groups including both Christians and Buddhists held placards. Church leaders had written to The Times stating ‘The Government must take a lead – cancelling Trident would be a momentous step – Britain can lead the way!’ The government was instead led in its decisions by the lobbyists from those arms companies that profit greatly from these totally redundant weapons.

Also on Parliament Square was a protest supporting Labour MP for Wirral West Margaret Greenwood’s ‘Ten Minute Rule Bill’ with cross-party support to stop the privatisation of the NHS and return it to its founding principles. Among those who spoke was Shadow Health Minister Diane Abbot.

The day was also a ‘#PIPFightback’ National Day of Action against the Personal Independence Payments which disabled people say are a totally inadequate replacement for the Disabled Living Allowance. These rely on systematically flawed assessments carried out by private firms Capita and Atos which make no allowances for many variable conditions and ignore medical evidence. Administered by poorly qualified staff, many are overturned at tribunals after disabled people have suffered for months, sometimes leading to hospitalisation or suicide.

I’d started the day outside the Vauxhall PIP Consultation Centre run by ATOS in a back street with a small group of protesters including Gill Thompson, whose brother David Clapson, a diabetic ex-soldier died in July 2013 after his benefits were ‘sanctioned’. He was left starving without money for food or electricity to keep the fridge containing his insulin running. Like many his benefits had been stopped for trivial reasons and she was calling for a full and public inquiry into cases like those of her brother and to ensure a fairer system for vulnerable claimants.

Later people from the Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN), Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and Winvisible (Women with Invisible and Visible Disabilities) and other supporters met outside the Victoria St offices of Capita PLC, one of the companies responsible for PIP assessments and held a rally on the busy pavement there.

After some speeches they moved from the narrow pavement to the busy road to continue their protest, holding up traffic for a few minutes, though they quickly moved to one side to allow an ambulance to drive through.

From there the moved to hold a short protest outside the Department of Work & Pensions offices at Caxton House, and then on to Parliament Square for another short rally.

Finally they decided to go to College Green where a media village was present with politicians being interviewed on TV over the appointment of Theresa May as Prime Minister. Police tried to stop them going into the area, but after some moved in eventually allowed them to stand on a path in the middle of the area a few yards away from the TV crews, who almost all totally ignored the protesters. Disabled people suffering and even dying apparently isn’t news.

Solidarity for Wood St cleaners
Trident Mad Hatters Tea Party
Disabled PIP Fightback blocks Westminster
NHS Bill protest at Parliament
PIP Fightback at Vauxhall


All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.


UVW at Wood St – 29 June 2016

Tuesday, June 29th, 2021

The strike and protests organised by the United Voices of the World union against anti-union cleaning contractor Thames Cleaning who employed the cleaners at the 100 Wood St offices in the City of London, managed by CBRE and mainly let to Schroders and J P Morgan is a good example of one of the things the current Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is aiming to prevent.

The UVW use loud rallies and protests outside workplaces (and sometimes in their foyers) to shame employers who are exploiting low paid workers, many migrants, into talking to the union. These workers, often employed by small and intensely anti-union companies, are often on minimum legal rates of pay, well below the London Living Wage and usually on the statutory minimum (and minimal) conditions of service – and sometimes even have problems getting these.

Outsourcing of low paid work such as cleaning is widespread, and contractors get the contracts by cutting costs – such as wages and conditions of service – and also by using bullying management to over-work their employees. Often too they cut costs by ignoring safety issues and failing to supply protective clothing and other essential safety material.

The UVW strike at Wood St was the longest industrial dispute in the history of the City of London, and it continued after Thames Cleaning had agreed to pay the London Living Wage for some days until they also agreed to re-instate the two workers who had been sacked. These pictures come from a rally on day 22 of the 58 day strike.

The strike was only successful because of the continuing pressure provided by loud protests such as this one, which made the companies working in the offices very aware of what was happening and made them and the building owners put pressure on the contracting company to meet the union and agree to their demands. Protests such as these, by the UVW and other grass-roots unions including CAIWU, the IWGB and a few branches of major unions have been successful in getting many of London’s lowest paid workers a living wage.

The PCSC bill, if it becomes law, will make these activities illegal. Already under existing laws, the company was able to take legal action to try and get an injunction to stop the strike. Although this failed it did get strict conditions put on the UVW’s actions at Wood St, and landed the union with crippling legal costs. Fortunately many supporters came forward with donations.

I came to take pictures on a number of occasions during the strike, which you can find on My London Diary. These pictures are all from Day 22: UVW Wood St Strike continues.

Protests – May 16th 2015

Sunday, May 16th, 2021

The purpose of protests is to bring whatever cause they support to the attention of others, particularly those who bear some responsibility for them or who could act in a different way to address the problem that led to the protest.

The current Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill seeks to make protests entirely ineffectual – allowing police to insist they will only take place where they will not be noticed and banning them from making any noise or causing any inconvenience. Given the Tory majority and the lack of concern for civil rights shown by most MPs it seems likely to come into force, but I think unlikely to actually be enforceable by police, though it will lead to clashes and arguments which will greatly reduce public trust in the force.

On May 16th 2015 I was privileged to be able to cover a protest by the grass roots trade union United Voices of the World from their meeting before the protest to the end of the event. Most of the members are low-paid migrant workers and most of the business was conducted in Spanish, with some key items translated into English for the benefit of me and the few other non-Spanish speakers.

From the meeting in Bethnal Green we travelled by bus to Liverpool St and then walked quietly as a group to meet up with others close to the Barbican. Many were carrying drums, flags and placards as they rushed past the two security guards on the door of the centre who held up a couple of them but couldn’t stop the rest, and the group made its way to the heart of the Barbican Centre, where people were already gathering for evening performances.

Rather than employ cleaners directly, the Barbican Centre uses a contractor, Mitie. The Barbican is a relatively good employer and offers its employees decent terms and conditions, but MITIE cuts costs to a minimum and has threatened the cleaners with sacking if they protest for a living wage and proper sick pay and other conditions, and the union says they employ bullying managers who disrespect staff and fail to provide proper working conditions. One disabled worker had recently been assaulted by a manager and accused of ‘terrorism’ after posting a short video clip showing his working conditions.

The protesters held a short noisy protest, using a megaphone to let the public know why they were protesting and calling for an end to the victimisation of trade unionists and for negotiations to get satisfactory conditions of work and service and a living wage. They called on the Barbican to meet its obligations to people who work there by insisting that any contracts they make include safeguards to protect the workers – rather than denying any responsibility for those who keep the centre clean.

After a few minutes, police arrived and argued with the protest organiser Petros Elia who agreed to move, and the protesters then went on a walk around the centre to make sure all those in it where aware the protest was taking place and why the union was protesting. Finally they agreed with police to leave the centre, going out the way they had come in and rejoining members who worked at the Barbican who had stayed outside to protest. The protesters then walked around some of the public streets around the Barbican before returning to protest in front of the main entrance, where I left them still protesting noisily.

Under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill all of this would have been illegal, and perhaps they might have been allowed just a small and quiet display some distance across the road from the centre, which few would have noticed.

I’d earlier photographed three other protests, two of which I’m sure would have fallen foul of the proposed new law. Newham Council had been trying to get rid of Focus E15’s weekly street stall in Stratford Broadway since it started almost two years earlier, and today’s protest celebrated the dropping of a contrived case against Jasmin Stone, one of the protest leaders. Later in the year the police and council came and ‘arrested’ the Focus E15 table – but had to release it a few days later.

While it might have been possible for the Free Shaker Aamer campaign to get permission for their protest on the North Terrace of Trafalgar Square, I think their activities and use of the megaphone would have been severely curtailed.

The small, silent ‘Stay Put’ vigil – seven people holding posters in silence by the wall in a corner of the square – is perhaps a model of what Priti Patel considers an acceptable level of protest. Though more probably she would like to go full North Korea.

Cleaners invade Barbican Centre
Silent protest over Sewol ferry disaster
Caged vigil for Shaker Aamer
Victory Rally For Jasmin Stone

London 14 May 2016

Friday, May 14th, 2021

Class War at UVW protest against Topshop sacking and suspensions of cleaners

May 14 has always been a special day for me, and five years ago I celebrated my birthday on the streets of London photographing various protests around town before going home to a more private event. The day’s work ended for me on Oxford St, where the United Voices of the World union were protesting against Philip Green’s Topshop after members who work as cleaners were suspended and one sacked for their union activities – demanding the London Living Wage. The protest was supported by other groups including Class War, cleaners from the CAIWU and other trade unionists including Ian Hodson, General Secretary of the BWAFU and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell. Although Philip Green makes millions, the cleaners were on the national minimum of £6.70 per hour, nothing like a enough to live on in London.

Police were out in force to prevent the protesters entering the Topshop store and there was a noisy protest on the pavement for some time facing the line of police before Class War led the protesters into the centre of the road to block Oxford St.

Police tried to clear the road, and began threatening arrests and the protesters decided to march west down Oxford St, briefly blocking Oxford Circus

before stopping to protest outside John Lewis, where the UVW have been campaigning for several years to get the cleaners recognised as a part of the workforce with similar respect and conditions of service to other John Lewis staff.

There were heated arguments as police manhandled some of the protesters there, but things calmed down a little and the campaigners moved on for a final protest outside the Marble Arch Topshop.

Things seemed to be coming to an end and I was late for dinner so I hurried away.

My day’s work had begun in Holloway, where Islington Hands Off Our Public Services, Islington Kill the Housing Bill and the Reclaim Justice Network were holding a rally and march to HMP Holloway, demanding that when the prison closed the site be used for much-needed social housing and community facilities, rather than for expensive private flats. Local MP and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn rode up on his bike to speak at the rally.

I moved on from the rally at the end of the march outside Holloway Prison to Oxford St, where the Revolutionary Communist Group and friends were reminding shoppers of the continuing oppression of the Palestinian people, and opposing attempts to criminalise and censor the anti-Zionist boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. The rolling picket urged shoppers to boycott stores which support and fund Israel, including Marks and Spencer, and stopped for brief speeches in front of some of them for short speeches.

A small group of militant Zionists had come along to wave Israeli flags and shout insults at them. The protesters (who included several Jews and some Palestinians) made clear that this was not an anti-Semitic protest but against some actions of the Israeli government and it took place the day before Nabka Day, the ‘day of the catastrophe’, remembering when roughly 80% of the Palestinian population were forced to leave their homes between December 1947 and January 1949, and later prevented by Israeli law from returning to their homes, or claiming their property. This year the attacks on Palestinians in Jerusalem have largely been precipitated by the continuing attempts by Jewish settlers to displace the Palestinian population of Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem. Founded in 1865, the area became home to Jerusalem’s Muslim elite, but in 1948 became home to Palestinian refugees from Jerusalem.

Vegans had come to Trafalgar Square holding laptops and tablets and wearing masks to show the film ‘Earthlings’ which includes scenes of horrific cruelty to animals and calling for an end to the farming and eating of animals. Some also pointed out the contribution that becoming vegan could make towards solving the climate crisis as Vegan dietts use less water, land and grain and produce less CO2.

Also on the North Terrace of Trafalgar Square were a small group of protesters standing in front of the National Gallery who held posters calling for human rights, fair treatment and support for refugees. Some held a banner with the message ‘free movement for People Not Weapons’.

More about all these protests on My London Diary:

Topshop protest after cleaners sacked
Refugees Welcome say protesters
Vegan Earthlings masked video protest
68th Anniversary Nabka Day
Reclaim Holloway

3 Cosas – 28 Jan 2014

Thursday, January 28th, 2021

It was the second day of the 3 day strike by the IWGB for union recognition and better conditions for outsourced workers at the University of London, and the union had hired an open-top bus to take their campaigners around London to protest.

The ‘3 Cosas’ campaign was calling for Sick Pay, Holdidays and Pensions for the workers, who were only getting the minimal statutory provisions from the cost-cutting contracting companies who employed them. They worked alongside people who were employed directly by the University who enjoyed considerably better conditions of service.

Although the majority of the workers were members of the IWGB, the University and the contractors refuse to talk with this union. The University management instead recognises a union that has few if any members, using this as an excuse not to recognise the union the workers belong to.

After a lengthy tour of London, stopping at some of the workplaces and elsewhere for speeches from the top of the bus, we came to Parliament Square, where there was a short rally and MPs John McDonnell, Jeremy Corbyn and Andy Burnham came to show their support.

I’ve written about the day at some length on My London Diary so I won’t go into much detail and repeat myself here. There are of course many more pictures, rather too many, as I got a little carried away and there was so much to photograph.

While the idea through the morning had been to draw as much attention to the strike and protest noisily, the next event was a suprise protest at another location where the IWGB were campaigning for union recognition and a living wage, the Royal Opera House. The bus stopped a short distance away and then members rushed into the foyer to hold a noisy protest there.

We then left and went for a final protest outside the offices of the contractor who employ many of the workers at the University, Cofely GDF-Suez. There the gates were locked and the protest took place on the street outside.

More pictures and text from the day:
‘3 Cosas’ Strike Picket and Battle Bus
IWGB at Parliament
IWGB in Royal Opera House
IWGB at Cofely GDF-Suez


All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.


Outsourcing and Covid

Monday, January 25th, 2021

One of the reasons why the UK has suffered so badly from the corona virus has been outsourcing. Not of course the major reason, which has been government incompetence and failure to take effective action, always a case of too little too late. A year after the outbreak began it is only now considering the kind of travel restrictions that would have saved many thousands of lives (and which even one government minister has said she was arguing in favour of at the start.) Three weeks before we had the first lock-down I was getting urgent messages from relatives who were in touch with the medical advice that was going to the government that, because of my age and diabetes, I should isolate myself.

And of course there has been the failure to work properly with existing public bodies, instead preferring to give huge payments to cronies to set up an ineffectual systems for testing and tracing, to source inadequate PPE and take large consultancy fees to no particular purpose, wasting billions.

Government has deliberately promoted policies which have increased the spreading of the virus, failing to stop much unnecessary work or ensure that proper protective measures are enforced and giving offers to people to go out for meals largely in indoor settings where the spread of infection was almost inevitable. Although they now deny it, their polices were based on ideas of herd immunity, where infection gives a large proportion of the population some immunity and stops the virus spreading; for this to work, perhaps 80% of us would need to have had it, and a quick back of envelope calculation showed that would mean perhaps 400,000 deaths – and I would have been rather too likely to be one of them. It’s a figure we may still reach, though 200,000 seems more likely now – and we are over half way there.

A couple of days ago on the Today programme on Radio 4 I heard Maria, a cleaner from the IWGB being interviewed. She contracted the virus, probably while travelling to work on crowded public transport, and tested positive. Before the test she had been ill at work and had asked her employer if she could go home, but had been told she had to stay. After the positive result, she had to continue to go to work, as the sick pay she would have received was simply not enough to live on.

Maria is probably one of those IWGB members in the pictures I took on 25 Jan 2018, and the other pictures I’ve taken at IWGB protests against outsourcing. Outsourced workers are employed not by the company at their work place – on this occasion the University of London – but by a company that is given a contract for the services they provide. Contracts are usually awarded to the lowest bidder, and outsourcing companies cut their costs by paying low wages, giving only the statutory minimum in conditions – including sick pay, holidays, pensions etc – and often bullying the workers, demanding impossible workloads and failing to provide proper safety equipment – so that they can gain contracts and also make a profit for the company owners.

Usually too both the contractors and the workplace management refuse (often illegally) to recognise the trade unions to which the outsourced workers belong – such as the IWGB, and refuse to discuss any of the workplace issues with them. Often union members are disciplined and sacked for their union activities.

Had Maria been one of the cleaners at the various places where the IWGB have been able by organising protests like this and forcing the management to talk with them and to get the workers directly employed she would have got the kind of conditions that other workers at these places take for granted. She would have been able to call in to work when she knew she was ill and have time off, and would have been able to self-isolate after her positive corona test, as she would have been able to rely on proper sick pay.

Outsourcing and other poisonous working arrangements, particularly zero hours contracts, have been a major factor in directly spreading the infection, and are a part of the reason for its increased prevalence among our black and ethnic minority communities. Low pay too has an indirect effect, leading to more crowded housing conditions. Many low paid jobs too are ones that involve considerable contact with others, and often involve travel in crowded public transport to workplaces.

The first protest on that Thursday evening in January was calling for the University of London to directly employ the cleaners, receptionists, security officers, porters and post room staff that work in the premises that are part of the central administration, including offices and halls of residence, and took place outside the University’s Senate House. Earlier protests have persuaded the University to consider direct employment for some of these workers, but the IWGB call for all of them to be brought in-house as soon as possible. Students and some teaching staff from various colleges came to support the protest.

At the end of this protest a double-decker bus hired by the union arrived to take those present to a ‘secret location’ for a further protest and I was invited to go with them. It dropped us off around the corner from the Royal College of Music, and the protesters ran into the building. A new contractor had taken over the RCM cleaning contract and decided to halve the hours worked by cleaners and change shift times. Most of the cleaners have to work on several jobs like this to make ends meet and so were unable to change to the new hours and had been threatened with dismissal. The RCM and the contractor had refused to discuss the changes with the IWGB who had launched a collective grievance; the cleaners have balloted for strike action and the union is also considering a legal challenge under law governing the transfer of undertakings.

It was a short and very noisy protest inside the foyer, and the protesters who had been very careful to avoid any damage left when the police arrived after 12 minutes and continued their protest outside.

More at:
Cleaners rush into Royal College of Music
End Outsourcing at University of London


All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.


13 December 2014

Sunday, December 13th, 2020

I started work on December 13th 2014 in Brixton, where a well-dressed Santa was with other Lambeth Living Wage protesters including National Shop Stewards Network chair Rob Williams, calling for all workers to be paid a living wage. They entered a number of shops on the main shopping street where workers are only paid the minimum wage, spreading their message through a megaphone and placards and handing out leaflets and union membership forms to shop workers.

They left when asked to do so by security staff and continued along the street to the next shop on ‘Santa’s Naughty List’.
‘Santa’s Naughty List’ Living Wage


The Victoria line from Brixton tube took me to Green Park and I made my way to join the ‘Advance to Mayfair’ protest organised by Class War at the Mayfair offices of US property developers Westbrook Partners. The protest was in solidarity with the tenants of the Hackney New Era Estate who Westbrook are intended to evict before Christmas.

There had been some disagreements expressed on social media before the protest and the organiser was ill and unable to publicise the event over the previous few days and the protest was rather smaller than anticipated. The police had however come out in force for what was a small and well-behaved protest in which after some speeches, Class War delivered a Christmas card to Westbrook – and someone came out from their office to accept it.

This and other protests by and in support of the residents and the publicity they generated in the media worked, and a few days later Westbrook sold their interest in the New Era estate to the Dolphin Square Foundation and the New Era tenants were saved from eviction.
Class War: ‘Evict Westbrook, Not New Era’


My final destination for the day was the flagship John Lewis Store in Oxford St, not for some Christmas shopping, but to meet with members of the IWGB and John Lewis customers who were campaigning for equality for the cleaners. Cleaners who work in the store receive less than the living wage, and are not entitled to the considerable bonus payments that other staff who work in John Lewis receive as ‘partners’ in the business. John Lewis outsources the cleaning to cleaning contractors to avoid having to give them decent wages and conditions while retaining its reputation as a decent employer.

We met up in the café on the fifth floor of the store, and after unrolling there banners there was a brief speech about the unfair treatment of the cleaners from Alberto Durango before the protesters marched around the top floor to the escalator blowing vuvuzelas. They made their way slowly around to the down escalator on each floor, pausing to hang their banners over the balcony and continuing the noisy protest.

By the time they arrived at the ground floor, police had arrived and were confusing the issue, with some trying to stop the protesters leaving the store and others trying to force them out. Most of the protesters were trying to leave and like me had to push our way past police to get onto the pavement where the protest continued. Police made one or two arrests, though I think all were released without charge as John Lewis would not welcome the publicity a court appearance would provide.

Cleaners Xmas Protest in John Lewis


All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.


WeWork doesn’t pay

Thursday, March 5th, 2020

I’d never heard of WeWork before I received an Facebook post inviting me to photograph a protest outside one of their London premises in Shoreditch. The company began in 2010, has its HQ in New York and provides flexible working spaces for companies from 1 to 500 people, equipped, serviced and ready to move in. In London alone it has 49 locations providing shared facilities.

When we started WeWork in 2010, we wanted to build more than beautiful, shared office spaces. We wanted to build a community. A place you join as an individual, ‘me’, but where you become part of a greater ‘we’. A place where we’re redefining success measured by personal fulfillment, not just the bottom line. Community is our catalyst.

But community doesn’t extend to all that work there, and in particular not to the cleaners who keep these shared office and community spaces beautiful. WeWork outsource their cleaning to cleaning company CCM.

Outsourcing is always a bad deal for workers. The companies bid for contracts almost entirely on price, and they pare down prices by screwing the workers. Low pay, high workloads, the legal minimum terms and conditions and often a lack of equipment and concern over safety combined with bullying management enable outsourcing companies to keep costs to the bone and profits to the company owners.

Trade unions are anathema to such companies, and also to many US based firms, and grass roots unions such as CAIWU who manage the difficult job of unionising marginal and often immigrant workers find it hard to get basic rights for their members. Workers who stand up for their rights get victimised, and CAIWU were protesting here as five CAIWU members have been dismissed here in the past few months, with Wework staff members involved in getting CCM to dismiss them.

The loud protest outside the offices attracted a great deal of attention, with one local business owner coming to ask them to keep quiet and one man stopping to argue with the protesters, getting quite angry and pushing some of them. But these were the exceptions and many others read the fliers that the protesters were handing out and expressed support, including one team of workers who came out from the building and join the protest.

More at: Wework stop victimising cleaners


All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.