Posts Tagged ‘SOAS’

Sick Pay, Holidays And Pensions – End Outsourcing

Tuesday, June 28th, 2022

Sick Pay, Holidays And Pensions – End Outsourcing – Nine years ago on Friday 28th June 2013 I photographed a protest by low-paid workers at the University of London who with their supporters ran into the Senate House and protested noisily inside the building for sick pay, holidays and pensions for all workers at the University.


I’ve spent some time over the past few days thinking about strikes and industrial actions, partly because of the rail strikes. My local station is one of the few that still has a train service, but out of solidarity with the workers I won’t be using it on strike days, and on the days in between it is still likely to be unreliable.

The campaigners met up at SOAS before the protest

Of course I support the strikers, many of them low paid workers and all of whom have seen the value of their wages cut over the last few years. And these have been years when for all the problems that politicians and media state many of the wealthy have got considerably wealthier – and some made huge fortunes over Brexit and profited greatly (and not always legally) over Covid. We are living in an increasingly unfair society, and with a government which despite claims about levelling up is doing its damnedest to make the rich richer while making the poor poorer.

After marching quietly past university buildings they dashed towards Senate House

The government and train operating companies make much of the need to modernise the railways and I can only agree with them. We desperately need to get back to a sensible structure for running railways, to reverse the breakup of the system into small pieces, each with its highly paid management, caused by the doctrinaire privatisation of the 1990s. And yes, there are other changes which could greatly improve the system, but what the companies mean by modernisation is largely slashing the additional rates for overtime, weekend and night work. It’s ‘we’ll give you more pay if we can cut your wages at the same time’.

and were all inside the building before security noticed

June 28th is said to be the date on which new restrictions on the right to protest pushed through parliament in the last session come into effect. I think the protest by the IWGB on behalf of low paid workers employed by contract companies at London University on Friday 28th January 2013 would clearly have been illegal in several ways had this law been in place then. And it would be precisely those aspects that made this and most other protests over low pay effective that could have resulted in arrests.

They swarmed up the stairs towards the Vice-Chancellor’s office

I don’t know how (or even if) the police will enforce the new laws. Although I think they will have little appetite to do so, there will be considerably political pressure on them. And while the large unions will worry about the huge impact legal measures would have on their funds and largely play safe, perhaps the small grass-roots unions who have been so much more effective for low paid workers will feel they have less to lose.

They held a noisy protest outside the Vice-Chancellor’s office

Back in 2013, the low paid workers who keep London University running were taking part in a ‘Summer of Action’, supported by the grass roots IWGB union (Independent Workers of Great Britain) and the students of the ULU (University of London Union.)

making sure he and his staff could hear why they were protesting


Many of the the cleaners, security guards and catering staff who work in the same buildings as other service staff employed by the university have brutally inferior conditions of service as they employed on behalf of the university by contracting companies who give them none of the kind or working conditions that any considerate employer would provide.

They then returned to the large lobby below to tell those attending conferences why workers were protesting.

Often they are not provided with proper safety equipment and expected to work in unsafe ways to get the job done, and may have to put up with harsh and unreasonable demands over workload, derogatory treatment and even racism from the managers employed by contract companies.

But this ‘3 Cosas’ protest was largely about three things, sick pay, holidays and pensions, on which these outsourced staff often have to fight even to get the rock-bottom statutory minimum provisions. Statutory sick pay is so low that few workers can afford to take time off when they are sick. Even at the height of Covid, many who were unwell had to drag themselves into work, putting their own health and that of others at risk to pay their rent and feed their families.

They continued a noisy protest in the lobby and its balconies for a few minutes

It took many protests such as this to persuade the University and other bodies to end the unfair outsourcing – even when studies showed there were considerable advantages in having a properly employed workforce and little if any financial loss. At SOAS, where the protesters met before the protest the Justice for Workers Campaign led by SOAS Unison branch began in 2006 and was only finally successful in 2018.

and then decided it was time to leave, pleased that the protest had gone so well.

The IWGB is still campaigning against outsourcing at University College London (UCL) and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) as well as other campaigns. A few days ago I photographed them outside the London offices of the world’s largest healthcare multinational Health Corporation of America (HCA) Healthcare, who run the private London Bridge Hospital, and they also support other groups of low-paid workers, including foster carers, delivery drivers, minicab drivers and cycling instructors.

More about the 3 Cosas protest at Cleaners Surprise Senate House Invasion.


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SOAS Shut Down 2015

Friday, October 29th, 2021

Students at SOAS, University of London, occupied the Brunei Suite on the Bloomsbury campus on October 6th 2015, after a leaked management document detailed £6.5m of cuts including the loss of 186 courses, roughly a third of the curriculum.

This leak came as the latest in a whole series of decisions by management which dismissed or ignored the views of both students and staff, and led to a unanimous vote of no confidence in the management two days later by the General Assembly of the SOAS Student Union.

As well as the course cuts and problems with switching courses and choosing tutorials, they complained that management had ignored an overwhelming vote in support of the Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) Campaign, ignored the opposition to the outsourcing of cleaners, security staff and other workers and failed to respond to the strike by Fractional workers (who are responsible for much of the teaching) for fair pay. The students said that management were failing to deal with the gender pay gap and that institutional racism is thriving in SOAS.

They called for a restructuring of the Executive Board and Board of Trustees to give students, academic staff and support staff authority over the running of our university, and suggested that a large proportion of the savings needed could be made by the Executive Board cutting their own inflated salaries rather than making staff redundant.

The entrance to the occupation after management locked the doors

The management responded with lies and by harassing the students, including by cutting off the power on 23rd October, and when many teaching and administrative staff refused to cross a picket line they locked the doors of the university. The entrance to the occupation became through the high ground floor windows.

Sandy Nicoll, Unison Branch Secretary

After a rally held on 27th October which I had missed they tried to intimidate the trade unions by suspending Unison Branch Secretary Sandy Nicoll, falsely claiming he had let students into the main building to protest outside the offices of recently appointed SOAS Director Baroness Amos.

The protest on Thursday 29th was held to call for the reinstatement of Nicoll, and there were messages of support for Sandy from colleges and trade unions around the country as well as a long series of speakers who came to give their support in person.

It was a well-attended and noisy protest with much banging on catering pots and pans with Nicoll getting a lengthy welcome before he could speak.

At the end of the rally there was music and dancing, with people taking part in the 'Strikey-Strikey', an adaption of the Hokey-Cokey:
You put your left arm in
Your left arm out
In, out, in, out
You shake it all about
You do the strikey-strikey
And you turn around
That's what it's all about
Woah, the strikey-strikey
Woah, the strikey-strikey
Woah, the strikey-strikey
Knees bent
Arms stretched
Ra-ra-ra...

Things appeared to be drawing to a conclusion and I got ready to leave when things livened up a little with people setting off smoke flares as they paraded with banners in front of the occupied building to the music of a violin and drums.

The management finally backed down and reinstated Sandy Nicoll and eventually the occupation came to an end too, with management changing some of its plans but not meeting the main student demands. Dissent continued on campus and there was a further occupation in 2017. There have been some victories, and after a 12 year fight the cleaners became directly employed by SOAS at the end of August 2018.

More at SOAS Shut Down after Sandy suspended.


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A Busy 10th October – 2014

Sunday, October 10th, 2021

Solidarity for Care UK Strikers

NSSN, TUSC and Southwark Unison protested at the Care UK offices in Southwark during the nation-wide day of solidarity with Doncaster Care UK workers who had been on strike for 81 days after huge cuts in pay and services by a private equity company taking over a part of the NHS, part of the continuing largely hidden privatisation of our NHS.

This protest was one of many around the country outside offices of Care UK and Bridgepoint, the private equity firm that owns Care UK, as well as at shops including branches of Fat Face and Pret a Manger also owned by Bridgepoint. As I wrote:

Their strike is not just about their own cuts in wages, but a stand against the principles involved and the whole idea of a values-based health service. The workers at Care UK are no longer able to proudly address the needs of those with learning disorders in their own community, but are simply required to meet minimum needs at the lowest possible cost – and the greatest profit to Bridgepoint and the company to which they will be sold on once the private equity company has slimmed services and pay to the bone.

Solidarity for Care UK Strikers

Free Ghoncheh Ghavami – SOAS action

Protesters at outside SOAS called for the release of former SOAS Law student Ghoncheh Ghavami, held in prison for 104 days and on hunger strike for 10 days after being detained in Iran with other women after she went to watch a volleyball match. Among those who spoke at the protest was Ghavami’s brother.

According to Wikipedia, “Ghavami was released on bail on 23 November 2014. She was sentenced to a one-year jail term and a two-year travel ban.”

Free Ghoncheh Ghavami – SOAS action

City Panoramas

I had a little time to spare between events and took a short walk in the City, including along one of the remaining areas of ‘highwalk’ at the southwest of the Barbican site, part of the post-war plan to segregate pedestrians from traffic.

The Museum of London had decorated the wall at left with characters related to an exhibition about Sherlock Holmes.

This large building site was on what used to be St Alphage Highwalk. The ambitious post-war plans to separate pedestrians from traffic in the City were never really practical on a large scale and large sections such as this have been demolished, although there are still some highwalks including throughout the large Barbican estate.

City Panoramas

Palestine protest at Hewlett Packard

The Palestinian Prisoners Campaign continued their campaign against Hewlett-Packard, which boasts of ‘a massive presence’ in Israel and are the IT backbone for the Israeli war machine with a picket outside their London offices in Wood St in the City.

Palestine protest at Hewlett Packard

Solidarity with the Umbrella Revolution

The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts organised a protest at the Chinese Embassy in solidarity with the ‘umbrella revolution’ of the students and workers of Hong Kong in their fight for democracy. Many of the protesters carried umbrellas and others had small yellow paper umbrellas as well as their posters and placards.

Solidarity with the Umbrella Revolution


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All photographs on this page are copyright © Peter Marshall. Contact me to buy prints or licence to reproduce.