AFTER IMPASSIVELY WATCHING cleaners protest over three days, security officers at the Ministry of Justice’s Petty France building decided finally to join United Voices of the World (UVW). They joined one week into the union’s ‘Triple Strike’ campaign, the most ambitious in its four year history, bringing together cleaners at Kensington Town Hall, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), and - with Yes votes coming in - across Health Care America’s London sites. Outsourcing giant Amey has the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea (RBK&C) council contract; the MoJ contracts OCS for facility management.
Strikes, protests and direct actions began on 7th August, securing negotiations between workers and managers at both RBK&C and MoJ within 36 hours. Amey and RBK&C had ignored cleaners’ demands for three months. All of the strikers are migrant workers, as are the vast majority in the outsourced cleaning sector across London. Several report working 60 and even 80 hours a week, across several jobs. Hundreds are now demanding the London living wage, occupational sick-pay, and parity of terms with direct employees.
Along with the IWGB (Independent Workers Union of Great Britain), UVW is organising where TUC affiliates have struggled, among mainly migrant workforces in low-paid, insecure jobs on outsourced contracts.
It’s not that TUC-affiliated unions’ branches are incapable of organising - only this year, Unite activists struck at TGI Fridays, BFAWU has organised strikes at McDonald’s (the first ever in the UK), and Unison careworkers have struck in Birmingham and, more recently, in the south west.
But the fact of our living through a period of workplace defeat is undeniable. According to the latest Office for National Statistics figures, there’s been a fall in real wages since 2008 - concretely, MoJ workers have seen only statutory wage rises for a decade, even as rents in some London boroughs doubled.
With UVW scaling up, and activists from TGI Friday’s, the McStrike, and the wider movement now attending their pickets, more possibilities of joint work - even, whisper it, shared industrial strategies - are appearing. A combination of UVW’s aggression and larger unions’ resources and reach would be a formidable industrial force.
Across the UK, there are workers who’ve never been approached by a trade union and whose wages and conditions are worsening year-on-year. UVW’s string of wins since 2014 - and the fact of their current campaign potentially affecting thousands - make the case that militant, strike-first, recognition-less trade unionism can substantially improve these workers’ lives. And, as with MoJ security officers, there’s a growing appreciation across the workforce of UVW’s militant potential. The larger unions should help build it.
is General Secretary of United Voices of the World