Posts Tagged ‘contracts’

University of London 3 Cosas Strike

Friday, January 28th, 2022
On the IWGB battlebus

Eight years ago on Tuesday 28th January 2014 low paid workers at the University of London were on the second day of their 3 day strike. Their union had organised a day of action around London and I had been invited to come and photograph it, having photographed a number of their previous protests.

University cleaners, maintenance and security staff were demanding that the University recognise their trade union, the IWGB (Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain) and give them better pay and conditions, comparable with other university staff they work alongside. The ‘3 Cosas’ were sick pay, paid holidays and pensions – all areas where these staff were only being given the legal minimum (and sometime not even that.)

As I wrote in 2014:

“although these workers work at the university and carry out work essential for the running of the university, the university does not employ them. Most low paid workers – cleaners, maintenance and security staff, catering works and others – at the University of London are no longer directly employed by the University, but work in the University on contracts from contractors Cofely GDF-Suez (who took over the former contractor Balfour Beatty Workplace at the end of last year.) The policy of outsourcing these workers seems largely intended to evade the responsibilities of London University towards an essential part of their workforce.”

3 Cosas’ Strike Picket and Battle Bus

It meant an early start for me, although the pickets had been outside Senate House for four hours when I arrived at 9am. Living outside London though on its edge I seldom arrive before 10am as it doubles my travel costs and I’ve never been a happy early riser. Fortunately the weather was good, a bright winter day and I’d dressed for the weather with thermal underwear, thick socks and a woolly hat, though it was still pretty chilly on top of the open-top bus.

The bus turned out to be a 1960 Routemaster which was sold by London Transport in 1986 but only converted to open-top in 2001. (I’d long thought that there was a plentiful supply of such vehicles after drivers attempted routes under low bridges, but apparently not, although a couple of bridges near where I live have had quite a few victims over the years.) Compared to modern buses, Routemasters offered a very bumpy ride with considerable vibration, and taking pictures on the upper deck required some faster than normal shutter speeds and most of the time working one-handed while clinging on with the other.

Space on bus tops is also quite small and moving around impeded both by the seats and the other riders (I think it’s a more appropriate term than passengers) and though they were very cooperative the top of the bus was pretty full. Most of the pictures I made were taken when the bus was stopped either at junctions or for short protests and my fisheye lens proved really useful.

The bus trip began at Senate House, and then began an extensive tour around central London, making a tour of various university sites where IWGB members were striking. There was a great deal of booing as we passed the Unison headquarters on Euston Road, as many of the workers had left Unison in disgust as they felt the were not supporting the demands of low-paid workers. The IWGB had intended to stop outside the offices of The Guardian newspaper, but had been held up too much by London’s traffic and drove past and on to Parliament Square.

Here we jumped off the bus and marched to Parliament where the IWGB had arranged to meet Labour MPs John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn for a short rally (and Andy Burnham sent a short message of support.)

There was a short shower before the bus came to pick us up on the Embankment, taking us to a side street near the Royal Opera House. Everyone kept quiet as we got off, then rushed around the corner and into the foyer. IWGB members there had voted for a strike the following month for union recognition and the London Living Wage.

In the foyer we were met by a man who introduced himself as the Unison Health & Safety rep and told the IWGB President and the other protesters that the ROH had already agreed that the cleaners will get the Living Wage, but had not yet told them. The Opera House recognises Unison, despite the workers almost entirely being IWGB members. It’s a ridiculous situation but one which is allowed under our poor trade union laws, though not one that makes sense for either workers or employers.

After making their views clear the IWGB members left quietly and got back onto the bus for the final visit of the day, to the Angel Islington, where Cofely GDF-Suez (who took over employing the workers at the University of London from the former contractor Balfour Beatty Workplace in December) has its offices. As at the Royal Opera House, there were plenty of police present and waiting for the protesters, but here they managed to lock the metal gates on the two entrances to Angel Square as the bus arrived, leaving the protest to take place in front of one of them in Torrens Place.

From here the bus was going on to the union offices at the Elephant and Castle and I was invited to join them for a very late mid-afternoon lunch but unfortunately I had work to do on the many pictures I had taken and had to leave them and make my way home.

IWGB at Cofely GDF-Suez
IWGB in Royal Opera House
IWGB at Parliament
‘3 Cosas’ Strike Picket and Battle Bus


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Fuel Poverty, NHS Staffing & Zero Hours – 2013

Friday, November 26th, 2021

Eight years ago there were protests about fuel poverty and NHS staffing which seem still very much in the news today, and zero hours contracts remain a problem, though unscrupulous employers have found another unfair way to screw their workers with ‘fire and rehire’, although legal actions brought by smaller and more active unions have begun to curb some of the more obviously illegal aspects of the gig economy.

Justice Not Jumpers at NPower HQ

But fuel costs are rising fast and putting many energy companies out of business. Not that they were really energy companies, simply middlemen gambling to make a quick profit, buying energy as cheaply as they could and attracting customers to deals which have become uneconomic to honour as fuel prices have risen. The scheme to rescue their customers, passing them on to those companies still in business makes life tougher for those who have to pick them up, and with the latest company to go under – or at least into administration – means that either taxpayers or possibly electricity customers – we await the details – will have to shoulder the bill.

It’s a crisis that has its roots in the privatisation of the industry and the absurd belief in competition that has created an overpopulated market in companies taking a cut out of our bills, with others profiting from persuading people to switch suppliers. Along of course with a government failure to provide proper support for insulation of homes – as Insulate Britain have been gluing themselves to the M25 and elsewhere to highlight, as well as ending the building of onshore wind farms, failing to put investment into other renewable sources such as tidal power and instead backing climate-destroying wood burning and expensive nuclear schemes. The recent half-hearted support for heat pumps is yet another failure by government. We should have schemes that ensures that new build properties are built with either air or ground source heat pumps and high levels of insulation and provides incentives for them to have solar panels.

On Tuesday 26th November I went with fuel poverty activists to march to the offices of NPower, one of the big six energy providers to protest against the profiteering by them that leads to people having to choose between eating and keeping warm, causing unnecessary deaths.

They included people from Fuel Poverty Action, UK Uncut, the Greater London Pensioners’ Association and Disabled People Against Cuts and were protesting against the huge increase in energy costs and against the deception of the energy companies who blame price rises on ‘green taxes’. The protests, in London and at British Gas’s new Oxford HQ, as well as in Lewes and Bristol were supported by other groups including No Dash for Gas, Campaign Against Climate Change, Climate Revolution, Young Friends of the Earth, Frack Off London, Power for the People, Barnet Alliance for Public Services, Lewes Against the Cuts, SOAS Energy & Climate Change Society and Southwest Against Nuclear.

They went to the NPower offices in Threadneedle Street in the centre of the City of London because NPower is the UK’s most complained about energy company with double the customer complaints of its nearest rival EDF and higher price rises in 2013 than any of the other Big Six companies. It had then paid zero corporation tax for the past 3 years despite a 34% profit rise of £413million and in the previous winter its price hikes were estimated to have pushed 300,000 people into fuel poverty.

Fuel poverty leads to premature deaths – and the figure for these announced that day for winter 2012-3 was a shock, with an increase of almost a third on the previous year, to 31,000 people. The protesters emphasized this by carrying a coffin to the offices, with several of the wearing masks with the faces of the prime minister and chancellor, David Cameron and George Osborne, and wearing jumpers with the logos of major energy companies.

Police protected the offices of NPower while the protesters held a peaceful rally outside, where many testimonies were read from people who were having to chose between heating and eating, already cold and dreading the coming winter. In a press statement, Susan Jarrett of UK Uncut said: ‘The fact that people are dying of fuel poverty as Npower and other energy companies rake in the money and avoid tax is a scandal. This Government is not only unnecessarily cutting our services in the name of austerity but are allowing these energy companies to literally get away with murder which is why we are fighting back today.’

This winter fuel costs are higher. Global warming means our weather is far less predictable, and its possible we may have an unusually cold snap. Or we may be lucky and avoid extremes of cold. But if we do get them, then there will be more deaths.

4:1 legal minimum NHS staffing

Back in 2013, the Dept of Health was still in Richmond House on Whitehall, and nurses were there to campaign for a manadatory staffing level of one nurse for every 4 patients in the NHS. They were joined by other groups protesting against closures and privatisation in the NHS. Its probably because of protests like this and many others that the department moved to obscure offices some way down Victoria St – which at least one protest I photographed marched past without noticing and got several hundred yards down the road before they realised they had missed it. Richmond House is now set to hold Parliament while the old building undergoes extensive and very expensive modernisation.

The protest was a response to various disastrous news stories about the problems of the NHS, including the RCN (Royal College of Nursing) revealing the NHS has over 20,000 nursing vacancies and the Department of Health’s decision to downgrade (effectively close) 100 A&E departments. Protesters also urged people to sign a petition calling for the NHS to be exempted from the provisions of the EU-US trade treaty then being negotiated in secret; and post-Breixt the government has made clear they will not protect the NHS in UK-US negotiations.

Cultural Workers against Zero Hours

Finally I went to photograph PCS members from national cultural institutions in London at Tate Modern and on the Millennium Bridge protesting against zero hour contracts which give them no guaranteed weekly hours or income, while stopping them taking on other work. Employers use zero-hour contracts to cut wages, avoid holiday pay, pensions, and ensure the maximum flexibility and profit for themselves. Workers are also unable to take on other part-time work, as they are obliged to be available for work at the whim of the employer.

There have been some minor changes in the law and in 2015 employers were banned from requiring workers to get permission before accepting other work but zero hours contracts continue to be a problem for many workers. Workers on them have no way of knowing their income week to week and although in theory they have the right to refuse any work offered, this still often leads to them being offered fewer hours in future. And while in theory zero hours workers have employment rights, these are often denied – and virtually impossible for individuals to enforce. All workers – particularly those suffering from zero hours contracts – need to join an effective union.


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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.


IWGB welcomes new Vice Chancellor

Monday, December 2nd, 2019

Although Universities like to present themselves as centres of enlightenment, when it comes to their relationship with workers who provide vital services to them, things are rather different. Unions including the IWGB have a long record of fighting and eventually winning battles against intransigent university managements for the London Living Wage and for better terms and conditions of service.

The IWGB, supported by other unions, after a series of protests and strikes in the ‘3 Cosas’ campaign won improved sick pay and holiday pay for outsourced workers at the University of London (Central Administration). But outsourced workers employed by contracting companies to work for the university are still under far worse conditions than those directly employed by the university, and often subject to poor and bullying managers, and a new campaign began in 2017 to bring them into direct employment.

Actions by IWGB members and its supporters – including many university students and staff – forced to the University to make a committment to bring the workers in-house, but a year later this promise was still to be kept, with only 12 receptionists having been brought back to direct employment

This action followed a failure of the newly appointed University Vice-Chancellor Wendy Thomson to reply to the IWGB’s request for a meeting to discuss the issue. Instead of talking with the IWGB union about their demand for all the workers to be taken into direct employment without delay the University has been spending large amounts on buying in extra security staff.

Although the great majority of the staff involved are now IWGB members, the University continues to take advantage of our immoral trade union laws which enable them to ignore the union and instead only officially talk and negotiate with a union which has no or very few members among the workers involved.

To their great shame our larger established trade unions collude with this practice – and even often claim the credit for concessions which have only been won because of the work of the IWGB and other grass roots unions who similarly remain unrecognised by the employers. Workers have a right to choose who should recognise them, and this is something that the unions once fought for but now too often refuse to support.

The 12 receptionists were given new contracts in May 2019, but these were negotiated with another union “behind their backs and behind the back of their chosen trade union, the IWGB“, and 7 of the 12 have brought grievances against the university, some of which involve a breach of transfer of employment (TUPE) regulations.

Since this protest, the University have also set a timetable to bring the  security officers in-house in May 2020 and cleaners in-house in November 2020, but have refused to bring the gardeners also involved back in house.

The IWGB are continuing to demand that the gardeners are also brought back in house and that any new contracts should be made in consultation with the union to which the workers belong and be approved by them.

More about the protest and more pictures at  IWGB welcome new Vice Chancellor


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