Museum of London Update

The struggle goes on at the Museum of London. The management wrote to us recently warning us not to protest about the bullying of our members by DOC Cleaning’s management, and comparing our protest on August 12th to an act of terrorism.

Here is our reply:

Hernando Costa has brought to my attention the contents of your letter to him dated August 18th 2017. In this letter you mention the protest organised by CAIWU members in the Sackler Hall at the Museum on August 12th.

I have noted the significant issues you raise in your letter, and in particular, your point that the protest caused panic and unrest amongst the members of the public. While we at CAIWU agree that this is highly regrettable, and though it is never our intention to cause disturbance or disruption to private individuals as a consequence of our actions, I felt compelled to take issue with your drawing of parallels between our action, involving vuvuzelas, sirens and banners, and the recent acts of terrorism that have taken place in London and elsewhere. Such comparisons are, I believe, disturbing, hyperbolic and extremely unhelpful. The public is in our view well able to distinguish between the waving of banners and blowing of vuvuzelas and the life-threatening use of knives and vehicles, and to suggest that our protests should be curtailed because of the actions of terrorists is in effect an act of subservience to those terrorists. As you yourself point out in your letter, protest is a right—one, I must point out, which we all possess, and one which is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, whether or not you at the Museum Of
London happen to ‘respect’ it or not. To suggest that this right should in any way be constrained amounts to an abandonment of the very freedoms which we routinely claim we will not allow such acts of terrorism to deprive us of.

You are correct to state in your letter that I have previously been in touch with the museum in relation to concerns about the treatment of its cleaning operatives by DOC Cleaning. May I take this opportunity to state that I have found the museum’s responses to my correspondence thus far entirely unsatisfactory. I have noted that, like your colleagues, you have chosen to attempt to shield yourself from responsibility for the things taking place under the roof of the building you purport to manage by sheltering behind the defence that your cleaners are employed by DOC Cleaning rather than yourselves and therefore, by implication, you are not in a position to involve yourselves in the ongoing dispute between our members and DOC. This position was stated explicitly to me by Lisa Fitzgerald in an email dated July 26th 2017. We are not naive at CAIWU. We fully understand that one of the key benefits of outsourcing services such as cleaning is that this can serve to deny outsourced staff the protections available to an organisation’s own employees, allowing the organisation to maintain an impression of standards to which is does not conform in reality. Nevertheless, your position in a situation such as the current one is indefensible. It is the museum who negotiates and agrees the contract with DOC, it is the museum’s responsibility to ensure that the terms of the contract do not allow staff to be exploited or abused on its premises, and it is the museum’s responsibility to hold DOC to account over its adherence to such terms. The museum has failed, and clearly continues to fail, to fulfil these responsibilities on all counts, and until it acknowledges and begins to exercise its duties, CAIWU intends to continue to highlight the museum’s role in allowing the continuing abuses of contracted staff at work on its premises.

That said, let me state clearly that we at CAIWU do not seek hostility and we have no desire to engage in protests such as the one that took place at the museum on August 12th. On the contrary, we have from the very beginning sought meaningful engagement and dialogue with both DOC Cleaning and yourselves in the hope of making swift progress towards a satisfactory resolution. Sadly, our attempts in this direction have been met with negativity both by yourselves and by DOC, whose management appears to be in total denial about the reality of life on the ground for our members. It is this refusal by both yourselves and DOC to acknowledge or address the significant issues at stake that led our members to carry out their protest on August 12th, and in the continued absence of a
meaningful response from either yourselves or DOC I can only say that further protests are likely. We are of course mindful of the law, and in particular of both the support it offers and the limits it places on public protest, and we will always seek to conduct ourselves within such constraints as it imposes. Contrary to what you might imagine, we are grateful to be informed when we appear to have exceeded our rights on such occasions. Protest is, by its nature, often difficult to manage, and one’s initial intentions can be easily neglected in the context of unfolding events. Nevertheless, I can only reiterate that we have no desire to cause alarm to members of the public. Yet this intention must be balanced with the importance of highlighting the very real abuses of cleaning operatives that are taking place on a daily basis within the museum. Since you close your letter with a legal warning, please allow me to remind you in turn that the law doesn’t work in just one direction—it also prohibits the kinds of bullying and victimisation at work that our members are currently enduring.

In closing, may I just say that I find it sad and distressing that the museum appears unable to exhibit the same degree of concern for the cleaners who make the premises fit for the public to visit as it does for its visitors. I remain hopeful that recent events may at least lead us towards a place of clearer and more productive communication.

We’re still waiting for a response!

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