Cleaners sacked for exercising trade union rights, demanding the London Living Wage & Sick Pay, are vindicated by decisive victory


THE crime scene

Sotheby's was established in 1744 in London, and is now headquarted in New York. The company has auctioned a Roman sculpture for $28m, a Mesopotamian sculpture for $57m, a Picasso for $95m, and an original "The Scream" for $119m. Sotheby's Realty has offices in Palm Beach, the Hamptons, Manhattan and Beverly Hills.

The campaign

Cleaners at Sotheby's in plush Mayfair had won a series of demands from Contract Cleaning and Maintenance (London) as a result of an Early Day Motion sponsored by John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn (MPs). The victory guaranteed non-toxic products, reinstatements, fairer schedules and the London Living Wage (backdated)... or so we thought! Sotheby's promptly ditched CCML and contracted Servest, sabotaging it all, hoping that UVW would run out of steam. Though back to square one, our members defied illegal threats with an incredible protest in the mid-summer of 2015 — very noisy, colourful, numbering over 100, and precisely what Sotheby's didn't need on the day of a blockbuster £130m art sale.

A drawn-out struggle, a resounding victory

This was a rare occasion when UVW could campaign in front of the bewildered noses of London's elite, who normally have a side entrance to scurry into. It offended Sotheby's enough for them to "suspend" (indefinitely) four cleaners on fabricated charges. The #Sothebys4 were soon the #Sothebys2, for whom another Early Day Motion was sponsored by Alex Salmond MP. UVW caused a further disturbance at Sotheby's classic car auction in September 2015, and it was confirmed in early 2016 that ALL outsourced workers at Sotheby's, including cleaners, caterers, porters and security guards would receive both the London Living Wage and contractual (much improved) sick pay. This big splash sent ripples far and wide...

Special thanks to Ken Loach, Critical Mass, Class War, and assorted trade unionists!

Relive the Sotheby's campaign in multimedia!

This campaign was reported in the Independent (2nd July 2015), Daily Mirror (3rd July 2015), New Statesman (21st Aug. 2015) and NY Times (14th Sept. 2015)