Hot on the heels of the Vita Cortex occupation in Cork, cleaners at the Corporation of London’s Guildhall, who already have an impressive record of struggle, have also gone into occupation. According to their press release:
Cleaners are staging a sit in at the Corporation of London’s Guildhall in protest at the inadequate response of their employer, the contractor Sodexo over the abusive treatment of women employees.
Friday 23rd December, 6am onwards
The Guildhall, London, EC2V 7HH
Cleaners staging sit in at Corporation of London’s Guildhall over abuse of women!
The cleaners who are organised by the independent workers union, the Industrial Workers of the World say their action comes after a growing frustration with Sodexo (and their predecessor Ocean) following persistent complaints regarding the conduct of certain members of the management team at Guildhall. Repeatedly complaints have been raised with respect to varying degrees of the mistreatment especially women, including extreme acts such as bullying, confinement of individuals, intimidation and assault.
The cleaners say the last straw was an incident involving a manager and one of the union representatives on Monday 21 November. The rep Isabel Martin was followed to a room in the basement of Guildhall, where she was blocked from leaving with the door closed, then it is alleged a male supervisor subjected her to an outburst of aggression and intimidating behaviour, the terrified women felt was under threat of real physical violence.
The IWW London Regional Secretary Chris Ford states that ‘the union has raised concerns and complaints of the treatment of employees on enough previous occasions with the employers to warrant sufficient preventative measures to safeguard the safety employees and to ensure no further mistreatment may occur. In the summer a mass meeting of cleaners had called for the removal of those managers responsible for ill-treatment of workers.’ The last incident the IWW insists could have been avoided if the concerns of workers were respected and acted upon beforehand. One cleaner stated: ‘These big companies need to put the safety of the workers before the reputation of the City of London Corporation’.
The union feels Sodexo have dragged their feet over this incident – they raised a complaint in letters of 22/11/2011 and 29/11/2011 but it took twenty days before the women worker was formally interviewed. Her complaint of such a serious matter has been treated as a mere grievance.
For the last two days a number of workers have refused to undertake their cleaning duties and are staging a sit in at the reception of the Guildhall. They are demanding robust action that can protect women workers from such ill-treatment occurring again.
As 2011 draws to a close and 2012 approaches, there are two very different options available for people trying to improve their lives, or at least stop them getting worse. There’s the strategy of the TUC unions: a series of ineffective, one-day set-pieces designed to let off steam before inevitably agreeing to “a way forward” that means accepting the government’s terms. Or there’s fighting to win. No one tactic will guarantee victory, and new ideas will have to emerge and be tested in the heat of the struggle, but the example of the Vita Cortex workers in Cork, the Guildhall cleaners in London, and the electricians’ invasion of Network Rail headquarters all point to the effectiveness of workplace occupations as a tactic. The more this kind of militancy spreads in 2012, the better-off we’ll all be.
Of course, struggle is never just about the workplace; the case of the Guildhall cleaners shows some of the ways that issues of class, gender and nationality can cross over. Another example is that of CeCe McDonald, a black transwoman in Minneapolis who was first attacked by racist and transphobic bigots, and then faced the wrath of the legal system when she fought back. As social struggle heats up, more and more of our friends and comrades are likely to find themselves on the wrong side of the law, here and in the US; the ongoing raids against anyone suspected of being connected to the riots this summer show how ruthless the state can be when provoked, so we seriously need to work on developing our prisoner support infrastructure in the coming year.
Oh, and happy holidays, everyone. Hope you have a good year.