Posts Tagged ‘trade union’

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


My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage : Flickr

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


My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage : Flickr

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.


Trafalgar Square protests

Saturday, April 4th, 2020
Ian Hodson, BFAWU President

Back on Saturday 12th October there were two protests taking place in Trafalgar Square and it was raining. One was by trade unionists supporting Extinction Rebellion and the school climate strikers, and there was a powerful speech from Ian Hodson, National President of the Baker’s Union BFAWU.  His union is one of the older and smaller unions in the TUC, founded in 1847 in Manchester though it has changed its name a couple of times.

The BFAWU is a union that still fights actively for its members and isn’t afraid to take on large organisations, including McDonald’s, Burger King, and KFC in its campaign to unionise and improve pay and conditions for fast food workers.

The rain came on rather more heavily, and I kept my cameras in my camera bag or under my coat, and took rather fewer pictures than I would otherwise. Working in wet conditions is still rather a pain, even though some cameras and some lenses are ‘weatherproof’ this doesn’t really keep them going in the rain.

The 3million organisation representing the three million EU citizens who were living in the UK had come prepared, wearing blue and yellow plastic rain capes with a sticker on them also in the colours of the EU flag and the message ‘I am not a bargaining chip’.

They had come to protest at the broken promise made by the Vote Leave campaign, which had clearly stated that EU Citizens currently living in the UK would “automatically be granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK” in the event of Brexit. Instead we have a complex scheme of applications, with many who have applied for leave to remain having their applications rejected. Some who have lived here for over 50 years, and have children who are UK citizens may face deportation.

Together they tore up copies of the promise, though the light had dropped and the pictures I took on a longer lens were rather blurred by their motion – I hadn’t got my camera set to a high enough ISO.

I still can’t decide which is the best way to work with my digital cameras when lighting conditions are likely to change. The different cameras I use – and on this occasion it was an Olympus OMD M5 II and a Fuji XT-1 – have slightly differing implementation of auto-ISO, which would seem to be a good answer, but in practice can mean that you are too often working at full aperture.

Probably the answer is to work in manual mode, setting both aperture and shutter speed when using auto-ISO, but it is then very easy to find that either you have reached your maximum ISO set and the camera then underexposes everything, or, even worse, you are at the minimum ISO in your range and all your images are overexposed with burnt out highlights.

More on both protests:

Brexit unfair for EU citizens
Trade Unionists join the Rebellion


My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage : Flickr

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 celebrate victory

Wednesday, October 16th, 2019

The United Voices of the World had been planning to protest in support of the cleaners at Chanel in the West End who had held a strike ballot, and were planning to strike for the London Living Wage, but instead were meeting to celebrate the successful negotiation of the deal with the employers.

£10.55 an hour is the minimum that is calculated to be needed for workers to live in London, rather than the minimum wage that the government dishonestly calls a living wage, and which many low-paid workers are still paid in London.

Migrant workers in small grass-roots unions like the UVW have gained a living wage for many of their members in London, managing to unionise workers where the large established unions have – with a few honourable local branch exceptions – largely failed. One of the reasons for failure is language, with many of our low-paid migrant workers being speakers of Spanish or other languages and often with a limited grasp of English.

Unions like the UVW work in both Spanish and English, and also put on classes in English (and sometimes other subjects) for their members, many of whom have qualifications and experience in the countries they come from which they are unable to gain employment from here.

The UVW is one of several such small unions active in London, including CAIWU and the IWGB, and members of one often support others on their picket lines and protests. There is often support too from branches of some of the major unions such as RMT and Unison and Unite Community and other groups including Class War.

There are a few more pictures at UVW celebrate LLW at Chanel .


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.

My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage : Flickr

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