Peruvian workers at the Orion waste management facility in East London were being ruthlessly exploited. Paid the minimum wage for their labour in dangerously dusty enclosed spaces with insufficient respiratory protection, they were united in their readiness to walk off the job — within 24 hours of their first meeting with a UVW caseworker.
On that chilly morning, the company owner was confronted by a workforce unwilling to lift a finger until basic demands were met. A group of UVW staff and supporters joined them in asking the questions for which there was no rational response except to pledge to provide, the very next day: proper face masks, air filters, gloves, four pairs of protective overalls each, soap and toilet paper — and to install on-site showers within a month.
They also won a pledge to discuss a significant pay raise to the London Living Wage, plus occupational sick pay.
On top of that: a personal apology from the site manager, and a promise that for the day of this wildcat strike they would still be paid and not victimised! A momentous result for workers who had never before been members of a union…
Migrant cleaners at the multi-level Kensington offices of the Daily Mail Group, hailing from the Caribbean, Africa and South America, were being paid just £7.50 an hour.
Meanwhile, the editorial staff habitually churned out brazenly racist and anti-immigrant headlines, including the common refrain that migrants drive down wages for the wider working class.
This irony would have been rapidly apparent to the DMG bosses and the contractor Mitie, who employed the cleaners. And it was not lost on the 100k people who signed an online petition in support of the cleaners being paid the London Living Wage (LLW)
Instead of agreeing to their request to be paid a living wage, or to sit down and talk to UVW, the manager of Mitie threatened to sack them if they went on strike — a gross violation of their trade union and human rights.
The campaign ended in victory, with DMG trying to claim they were planning to raise pay before the cleaners demanded the LLW, among other lies. Clearly these masters of propaganda understood the inevitable bad PR of an extended conflict.
Cleaners working for Kensington and Chelsea council, principally at the town hall, were employed by Amey via a £150m 10-year "Tri-borough" services contract. Amey paid them the minimum wage of £7.83 per hour, and provided no sick pay beyond the statutory minimum, which paid nothing for the first three days of absence, and only a heavily reduced wage thereafter. In May 2018 a group of cleaners represented by UVW demanded the London Living Wage (LLW) of £10.20 per hour, and in August coordinated a joint strike with cleaners at the Ministry of Justice, supported by the local MP, Emma Dent-Coad. On the first of three planned strike days, RBKC issued two mixed messages within a few hours, the first apparently committing to bringing the cleaners in-house, and the second merely promising a review of Amey's contract. The striking cleaners burst into a council meeting later that afternoon, securing an agreement from council members to engage with cleaners on the picket line the next morning.
A statement by the council's chief executive Barry Quirk the following day confirmed that "all options" were being considered in order to deliver the cleaners' wage demands, including ending Amey's contract and bringing the cleaners in-house. In September, the council fully committed to paying the LLW as of January 2019, with council leader Elizabeth Campbell further promising to try and secure backdated payment of the LLW!
UVW's pre-strike protest at LHH, a swish consultancy in the City of London, began on a December mid-afternoon outside the entrance, met by a line of City of London police.
The cleaners, all Latin American and fresh from voting unanimously for strike action, departed the protest to start their evening shifts inside the building at precisely 6pm. The police suddenly stopped pushing them away, and allowed them to pass.
For the first time in all the years of service — 20 years in the case of one of the cleaners — they became visible to the suited City workers, after facing down threats of disciplinary action and dismissal.
In response, LHH confirmed they would be re-tendering their cleaning contract to guarantee the London Living Wage of £10.20 per hour. A whopping 30% increase!
This victory was achieved in little over 24 hours, after UVW submitted a formal claim for the London Living Wage warning the company that if they did not commit to it within 7 days — and start paying it within a month — the cleaners would be duly balloted for an all-out strike.
The Latin American cleaners, working night shifts at the bank, were informed the very next day that as of the following month they would all receive a pay rise from £8.50 to £10.20 per hour.
For the EU headquarters of an elite bank raking in annual revenues of £15bn and with $33 trillion in assets under custody, this was a remarkably simple result. Of course, everything’s a lot easier when it’s proven that a union doesn’t back down!