Posts Tagged ‘victory’

Sotheby’s ‘Dignity under the Hammer’ protest – 2015

Saturday, July 1st, 2023

Sotheby’s ‘Dignity under the Hammer’ protest: Art is big business, and Sotheby’s is arguably the biggest name in that business. Like all businesses they rely on the services of cleaners, porters and other low paid workers to keep the business running smoothly. But back in 2015 they decided they didn’t want to pay them a proper wage and give them decent conditions of service.

Sotheby's 'Dignity under the Hammer' protest - 2015 - United Voices of the World

While the protest by the United Voices of the World trade union members and friends was taking place, wealthy art investors were attending and making their bids at a a Contemporary Art Evening Auction including works by Francis Bacon and Andy Warhol. Sotheby’s later announced that the evening “realised £130.4m ($204.7m / €183.9m), Sotheby’s highest-ever total for a sale of Contemporary Art in Europe. Warhol’s only hand-painted one-dollar bill painting sold for £20.9 million, the highest price for any work sold in London this week.”

Sotheby's 'Dignity under the Hammer' protest - 2015 - United Voices of the World

Many wealthy people and institutions which spend lavishly on themselves and their business seem to begrudge paying the low paid workers they depend on a living wage. Perhaps that’s how these people got wealthy in the first place, screwing the peasants and workers.

Sotheby's 'Dignity under the Hammer' protest - 2015 - United Voices of the World   - Ian Bone of Class War

The cleaners at Sotheby’s are not directly employed but are outsourced – so Sotheby’s were able to deny responsibility for the way they were treated. Earlier representations and threats of protests by the workers had resulted in them being promised by their then employers a settlement including the reinstatement of suspended trade union members, contractual sick pay, the backdated payment of the London Living Wage and an end to the use of toxic cleaning products.

Sotheby's 'Dignity under the Hammer' protest - 2015 - United Voices of the World

But after this agreement was reached with contractor CCML, Sotheby’s fired the company and brought in new contractors, Servest, who refused to honour the agreement, instead sending a letter to all the workers threatening with sacking if they protested. They also began unfair unfair disciplinary action against one of the union reps, while refusing to investigate his report of threats of violence made to workers by their managers.

The day after this protest four cleaners reporting for work were stopped and told they were not allowed to enter because they had been at this protest. The United Voices of the World union continued their actions in support with further protests and they were supported in parliament by an Early Day Motion and sponsored by John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn.

Eventually there was victory for the UVW, and in early 2016 they were able to report that “ALL outsourced workers at Sotheby’s, including cleaners, caterers, porters and security guards would receive both the London Living Wage and contractual (much improved) sick pay.” There is more information on their web site including a video and photographs and links to other news items on the campaign.

The protest was much enlivened as you can see in some of the pictures by the support of other groups, notably Class War, and you can read an account of this protest on My London Diary (link below) with more comments in the picture captions.

It’s interesting to see the very different attitudes of the police towards the protesters and Sotheby’s staff in the pictures. Eventually after urging from Sotheby’s police brough in reinforcements and tried to clear the protesters well away from the auction entrance, although the protesters had made no attempt to impede those entering, simply offering them fliers about the dispute.

Sotheby’s ‘Dignity under the Hammer’ protest

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

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.

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