An attempt by Unite members to present the case of Justice for Cleaners activists who were sacked by the company Mitie after successfully campaigning for the living wage was ruled “out of order” at a meeting of 80 plus trade unionists in London on Thursday 18 June.
This shocking result occurred at the London and Eastern Regional meeting of the United Left, “the largest left organisation within the British and Irish trade union movement” which claims as its founding principles:
• A socialist political direction with a strong voice to stand up for working peoples’ interests at all levels including international.
• A fighting back industrial vision to win for and defend our members in the workplace.
• An organising agenda to grow and build union power amongst the unorganized.
The item under discussion was “Disputes” and Chair Jim Kelly had announced that he would take reports on the Visteon dispute, the case of Ford Cardiff Convenor Rob Williams, and the Bus workers’ pay campaign. When members asked for Alberto Durango from the Cleaners’ campaign to be allowed to address the meeting, the Chair said there would not be sufficient time as the room had to be vacated by 9:30pm. Many of those present protested, but were threatened with exclusion from the meeting if they continued.
The three reports were duly given, with a brief discussion after each one. As the Chair was announcing the next item, there was once again a call for Alberto to be heard. This time, the Chair said that the item could not be heard, as he had not been notified about it one week in advance! He referred to the supporters of the cleaners’ campaign as “some people who have come along to their first meeting of this organisation” – as if new members do not have the right to raise urgent issues and have them discussed!
Finally, a vote was forced. Facilitated by the presence of a large number of Unite full-time officials at the meeting, Alberto was silenced in a vote that upheld the Chair’s ruling by 39 votes to 28.
This set-back follows a letter issued by Asst. General Secretary Jack Dromey withdrawing official union support for the cleaners’ campaign for re-instatement. He claims that the union has assessed the details of the case, and they believe that the company Mitie and UNITE officials have done all that they can for the cleaners. The cleaners maintain that Mitie has misrepresented the facts and that the union should continue fighting for their interests.
The idea that the cleaners are mistaken about being victimised by the company is becoming less and less likely in light of the fact that 3 months into their weekly demonstrations in front of Willis insurance brokers and HBOS (sites where the cleaners worked) Alberto, was called in for a meeting by his employer Lancaster only to be met by immigration officials accompanied by police. He was arrested, hand-cuffed and his home searched. About ten hours later, for lack of evidence, he was released from the police station with a warning.
Cleaners who have fought for the London living wage with the Bloomsbury campaign have also been victimised. The company Office and General gave cleaners at UCL a letter stating that if they didn’t come to work the next morning with ID they would be subject to the authorities and immigration services.
Then there is the example of José Stalin Bermúdez, a UNISON branch chair and former cleaner at SOAS who was sacked under false pretenses by ISS after he helped cleaners fight against poverty pay. The battle was won but the effort of cleaners and students to stop SOAS from sub-contracting out the work altogether was met with a surprise early morning immigration raid on the very same day a rally was scheduled to take place in support of the re-instatement of Stalin. Nine cleaners, including one heavily pregnant cleaner were detained and three were deported immediately.
These are but a few examples of a stepped-up campaign by companies to get rid of fighting workers – by any means neccessary.
Yes, the cleaners are different, the unions are different, but the issue remains the same. Cleaners who fight to improve their conditions – eventually come under attack. This includes the Mitie cleaners.
Supporter of the Mitie cleaners, Labour MP John McDonnell said that the bosses were "waiting until the headline news about union recognition victories had passed before attacking key union organisers and activists. Workers such as those in the Justice for Cleaners campaign may well make gains and a large number thought that they had a victory, but employers haven’t waited long before quietly trying to claw back what they had won."
So, we strongly urge UNITE officials to follow the lead of UNITE members like those in the London construction branch and give their full solidarity and concrete support for their fellow trade unionists.
Their campaign for full union support has gained other supporters like Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn, film-maker Ken Loach, Ford Vistion workers, and Jerry Hicks, the left candidate for General Secretary of Amicus UNITE, many of the main Latin American solidarity campaigns and trade unionists and activists.
Please sign the online petition for full union support of the MITIE dispute at http://www.petitiononline.com/jobs4all/petition.html
And most importantly, please come to their weekly pickets:
The next one is tomorrow:
Friday 26 July
12;30 hours meet at the McDonalds at Liverpool Station
Then at 1:00 we will go to the nearby HBOS Building
(tube: Liverpool Street / Bank; bus 25)
or call Alberto at 07904329679