Cleaners at the London School of Economics have won a significant victory, with university bosses conceding to their demands to bring all cleaning services in-house, resulting in a significant improvement to working conditions. At SOAS meanwhile, the struggle by staff and students continues, with workers facing repression and victimisation from management.
Cleaners at the London School of Economics have won a significant victory, with university bosses conceding to their demands to bring all cleaning services in-house, resulting in a significant improvement to working conditions.
The largely migrant and ethnic minority workforce of cleaning staff at LSE was formerly employed by private sector parasites Noonan, who subjected cleaners to far worse treatment than that experienced by staff employed directly by the university.
Under Noonan, cleaners’ pensions, annual leave entitlement and maternity leave were all pitiful, with sick pay so miserly that some workers had no choice but to drag themselves to work while ill or even injured.
A 10-month campaign by the United Voices of the World union, in collaboration with the student-led Justice for Cleaners group (and in solidarity with UNISON and UCU) demanded that the university directly employ all cleaners currently working at LSE in time for the 2017/8 academic year.
Finally, following seven days of strike action, and with wide support from students, the bosses caved in. This concession will ensure LSE cleaners receive, among other things: 41 days of annual leave; six months’ full-pay and six months’ half-pay covering illness and injury; plus proper employer pension contributions of up to 13% of their salaries.
This is one of the most impressive victories by university workers in recent memory and will come as a huge boost to cleaners still in dispute with their own bosses at King’s College London and SOAS (see below). The final deal will soon be put to a vote by the near-100 per cent unionised cleaning staff at LSE, in addition to a transitory offer of enhanced terms and conditions until the move in-house takes place in 2018.
The Marxist Student Federation salutes cleaners and campaigners alike at LSE. This militant, cross-union struggle demonstrates the amazing feats workers can achieve when they put up a united front and refuse to bow to abuse and intimidation.
However, as we saw in the aftermath of the King’s College London living wage campaign in 2014, (which was successful, but led to university bosses immediately slashing hundreds of jobs to protect their profits), university bosses are no more generous than privateers like Noonan.
Comrades at LSE must now build on this victory, campaign to boot out the parasitic managers, and place the university under the control of workers and staff. Only workers’ control – of the higher education sector, and the rest of society ‒ can put an end to exploitation once and for all.
Justice for SOAS workers! Shame on SOAS management!
by Fiona Lali and Peter Kwasiborski, SOAS Marxists
12th June was the 8th anniversary of the forcible deportation of nine SOAS workers. This day has since become one of commemoration in the SOAS community, in order to condemn what was a horrific attack on the staff.
Yet it was on the anniversary of these events that SOAS management once again proved itself to be interested in nothing other than profit, with complete disrespect for their workers, by announcing the planned closure of the main building refectory as of 1st August 2017. This will cause large scale redundancies and job insecurity among the catering staff.
Staff on zero-hours contracts are to be made redundant, with permanent staff being moved to hospitality. Staff have already received redundancy letters. Even those with contracts are being forced into precarious situations due to the overstaffing of the hospitality services. There has been no consultation whatsoever with members of the SOAS community who use the refectory, including students, academics and staff.
This is not an isolated incident, but rather another juncture in what has been a long history of struggle for workers’ rights at SOAS. The outsourced catering staff work for Elior UK. It was demanded in January 2017 that these outsourced staff were to have their terms and conditions brought up to the same level as Bouygues staff, with an immediate end to all zero-hours contracts. Follow up meetings were requested a further three times, along with an open letter on the 29th March to which there had been no response.
In response to the planned closure, SOAS students have occupied the directorate in the main building in solidarity with the catering staff at SOAS. The occupation has five demands:
- No cuts, no closures, no redundancies. We demand that SOAS keeps the Main Building Refectory open and commits to no redundancies for either full time staff or those on zero hours contracts in the refectory and catering/hospitality services.
- All workers must have fair contracts, including:
- Equal sick pay, holiday pay, pensions with in-house staff;
- End zero-hour contracts, with a fair and just alternative;
- End outsourcing by bringing all current staff in-house now.
- The future of the refectory and catering services must be decided with the full participation of staff and students. We demand that SOAS commit to a fully participatory consultation with the SOAS community to improve the catering services and refectory, and deliver a service that reflects the needs and ethos of the catering staff and the wider SOAS community.
- All workers must be remunerated in full, at the London Living Wage or above. As SOAS Management is contractually obliged to, and has previously agreed to with UNISON: the catering staff currently owed up to £4,000 each in unpaid wages must be paid in full with no adverse impact on their current wages.
- Valerie Amos must issue a public apology on behalf of Senior Management for the atrocious treatment of workers in this ordeal.
A successful rally took place yesterday (13th June) in solidarity with the occupation, but crucially in support of the catering staff who are planning strike action before this year’s graduation ceremony. Around 120 people arrived; a mixture of students, union representatives, and academic staff, to condemn SOAS management. Attempts were made to enter the occupation, but were stopped by an increase in security staff manning the doors.
In response to this, SOAS management have sent out a generic email to all students and staff, now claiming, “We have categorically not made a decision to close the refectory in College Building”. The lack of transparency towards staff in this process is unacceptable. There still remains no guarantee that the refectory will not be closed. Moreover, this does not explain the redundancy letters that have already been sent. SOAS management are now threatening the occupation with an injunction. This is an unacceptable response to a legitimate right of protest. Another rally will take place today at 5pm, and will continue every day until the demands of the occupation are met.
SOAS is a school which dedicates itself to the study of the so called ‘developing world’ in Africa and Asia. It is an institution which continually produces academic literature, talks and conferences against the exploitation of migrant workers, and the exploitation of imperialism and colonialism, but which itself practices exploitation of workers, especially BME and female workers, within its own institution. Maximizing profits in higher education has led to the casualization of labour- a direct result of the crisis of capitalism. The worker-student solidarity demonstrates the power of the working class once organized! We must defend the occupation, defend the rights of all outsourced staff and bring an end to the exploitation of all workers at SOAS.