Tuesday, 24 February and Thursday 1pm. Join the second demonstration in
support of 5 cleaners who were unfairly sacked by the cleaning services company
Mitie in order to undermine their union work.
The address is in front of the insurance broker Willis Offices, 51 Lime
Street, C3M 7DQ London. Liverpool Street tube. Meet at the station in front of
the McDonald’s and all go to together to Willis. Tuesday, 24 February and
Thursday 26, 1 PM. Contact
Socialist Appeal spoke to labour activist Alberto Einstein after the first
demonstration on the 12th of February.
Learning From Experience: To win is to fight to the end
Alberto has been working as a cleaner in London and fighting for
better wages and conditions for over 10 years.
Like many from the immigrant community, he came to the UK to study and to
look for a better life. Soon after his studies, he fell into the ranks of many immigrants
doing low paid work.
He said: “In the morning, you see all the Africans and all the Latin
Americans on the bus. After eight, you see more of a mix of people going out
and that is normal. But I hope with time, with my son, with the new generation,
that things will change. What we want is just the same opportunities as all
As Alberto’s story unfolds, I get the distinct feeling that he will be one
of the catalysts for change.
He got a job as a night cleaner at Enron at the time when Enron imploded, causing a ripple effect that resulted
in him and 22 other cleaning staff being sacked. They received no redundancy
pay from the cleaning company Lancaster, who had been outsourced by Enron,
and were told to leave the premises immediately.
Shocked, Alberto and his colleagues said they wouldn’t budge unless they
got a letter of explanation. The management threatened to call the police.
Because some of the workers did not have all their papers, they left. But
instead of meekly going home they went to Lancaster’s head office.
A group of 22 cleaners arrived to lodge their complaints. Alberto said it
had quite an impact. Probably for the first time, managers saw the
angry faces of the usually anonymous ranks of the night shift.
They were shuffled into a side room and offered coffee and food in an
attempt to calm the situation down. They tried to gently get them to leave by
offering to cover their cab fare.
Alberto said: “We said no. We want our jobs.”
And so the months long battle began. The cleaners pursued all the tactics
they knew of. They wrote letters. They sought legal advice. They met with the
company. They contacted the Latin American Association. They all piled into a
meeting at the Citizens’ Advice Bureau.
They tried to create the necessary links with anyone really willing to
fight for their cause. Due to a lack of experience and tiredness, the 22
workers shrunk to 10.
In the end, they managed to get their redundancy pay but more than half of
them lost their jobs. Alberto, who still works for Lancaster at the Schroders site, said that if he
knew then what he knows now they could have saved all 22 jobs.
The remaining 10 cleaners are now dedicated to trying to teach the lessons
learned to other workers in struggle.
Now they are all members of the (T&G) Unite union. Alberto describes
himself as a dedicated member but not officially part of any group or campaign.
He says he is "just a worker who likes to give his solidarity to other
workers when they are fighting".
With the advantage of an office and computer Alberto and colleagues began
doing voluntary work for the union. Without salaries and paying their own
expenses, they gave advice to other cleaners and migrant workers, in the process
bringing in a number of new recruits to the union.
When trying to help other workers he would follow the advice of the union and
pursue all the traditional methods of struggle. Legalities, letters, copies to
the union, copies to the company, petitions, negotiations and more meetings
with the Citizens’ Advice Bureau were utilised, but many of the root problems
of the workers were not being addressed and they faced a growing number of
As time passed Alberto was beginning to realize the limitations of what the
trade union was willing or able to do.
He wasn’t getting the results he really wanted from the bureaucratic
methods of the current union officials.
He said: "It works from top to bottom. It shouldn’t be workers for
capitalism. It shouldn’t be like that. It should be workers for the
Eventually the union brought over some organisers from the Justice for
Cleaners campaign in the United States and established the UK counterpart.
Alberto was heartened. He participated in their demonstrations all over London
like at Goldman Sachs and Barclays. There were victories and wages were
He said: "Cleaners around London were beginning to realize that yes;
they had rights and could get action from the unions."
However Alberto began to realize that once again, there were limits to how
hard the union was willing to fight for its members.
A recent case in point was the struggle of the cleaners at Willis, an
insurance broker in London. Cleaners employed by the sub-contractor Mitie were
dismissed after protesting against being forced to work full time hours at
In a letter Alberto received from the company he discovered that the union
had signed an agreement banning workers from demonstrating outside company buildings.
He said: "How can you sign an agreement like that without telling the
workers? They act like the Human Resources department for the company."
The last demonstration held on 14 February was subsequently deemed ‘unofficial’
and not supported by the union.
In another instance one year ago, Alberto and his co-workers began a new
struggle at Schroders for a pay rise from £6.00 per hour up to £7.45 – the
London living wage.
They were united and all 40 cleaners signed a petition. At first, the union
responded enthusiastically saying that they would help and a demonstration in
front of Schroders was planned.
Just before the demonstration went ahead however union officials said they
would enter into negotiations with the company. The cleaners agreed. Disappointingly,
the result of the first round of negotiations achieved nothing.
Alberto began to understand that they could pay their union dues and they
could campaign for their rights but companies always seemed to have more
Without any results, the cleaners warned the union, "Either you do it,
or we do it". With or without the union, they were going to fight for the
The company responded with an offer to cut night shift workers from 30 to 9
and change the hours of work from 4 hours to all night shifts. It was seen as
an effort to destroy their unity and undermine their demands so a date was set for
a demonstration – Friday, the 17th October, 2008.
Once again, it was stopped by the union in favour of negotiations. Alberto
said: "let’s play the political game. Let’s see what will happen."
Unfortunately the union officials returned from negotiations with nothing
more than the promise of legal arbitration.
The cleaners were more than disappointed. Alberto noted "The people
from the union, they talk high but, they never go to the sites of the workers.
They never talk to the workers to see what they have to say".
In response the entire group of Schroders cleaners decided to go to the
main offices of (T&G) Unite to see what the union had to say to the workers
The huge group was ushered into a meeting room. Paul Davis, one of the
organizers of the Justice for Cleaners campaign, told them that the union would
support their demonstration.
Alberto said: "Everyone saw him as a fighter because he was from this
Mr. Davis went on to warn them that they should be careful on the demo.
Anything could happen. He then recommended that they wear masks on their demo
to hide their faces in case there was some form of unexpected retribution.
Some of the less experienced workers began to get nervous, wondering what
the ramifications of demonstrating could be. Alberto was shocked: "We are
not criminals. We have nothing to hide. We are just asking for our rights.
That’s it. We are not killing anyone".
Mr. Davis assured the union’s support and set a new date, Wednesday, for a
bigger demonstration with all the union organisers present.
The cleaners decided to keep their original date for the demo – Friday – in
their back pockets.
When the Wednesday arrived, the union was there to stop it with their
normal excuse that the company wanted to negotiate. This time, the workers
They demanded a letter from the company that would promise not to dismiss
any workers, to increase their wages and not mess with their hours. If this was
not granted they would to stop work and demonstrate every day beginning on the
On Friday the demonstration went ahead. The workers from Schroder’s were
joined with employees from Amey who were fighting against unfair sackings after
an immigration raid at the government’s National Physical Laboratory.
The company called for direct negotiations with the workers. The cleaners
sent in a contingent consisting of one Polish worker, an African, a Bolivian,
one Colombian and someone from the union to represent the 30 workers. The deal
on the table from the company was to give the pay rise but reduce the workforce
by two to be able to afford it.
The cleaners voted to reject the offer and sent a new letter to the
In the next meeting with management all of the worker’s demands were met
without a single cleaner losing their job.
Management asked if they were happy but the cleaners remained stone faced
until they could bring the offer back to the rest of the workers. Only then was
the offer received as a total victory for the cleaners of Schroders.
Now that the (T&G) Unite has ended the Justice for Cleaners campaign
Alberto and his colleagues are organising around three different campaigns.
These are Schroder’s (Lancaster is the cleaning subcontractor), the Government
Laboratories (using subcontractor, Amey) and Willis (who uses the company Mitie
for their cleaning staff).
Alberto recognizes the huge benefits the Justice for Cleaners campaign has
brought. It has raised awareness of the issues of low paid migrant workers and
brought together a group of employees who can now share their experiences.
Alberto believes that the new orientation of the work for London cleaners
is not Justice For Cleaners, "a justice that someone else will get for us
– but, Cleaners for Justice. A justice we want to get for ourselves."
Alberto firmly maintains that despite their limitations "we need to
have the unions. What we need to do is appropriate them, to get inside the
unions and win these spaces."
Currently, Alberto and others from his community are planning to do just
that and are collecting signatures to hold an election.