CAIWU Day of Action — Thursday March 8th 2018

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On Thursday March 8th, CAIWU, the Cleaners and Allied Independent Workers Union, mounted four separate protests in response to a series of co-ordinated attacks on its members. Appropriately enough, the union chose International Women’s Day, the day of the Women’s Strike, to launch its fightback against the corporations that seem determined to destroy it. CAIWU may not be the biggest or wealthiest of unions, but the protests attracted up to 400 passionate supporters, who issued a powerful warning to their wealthy adversaries that the ‘Spanish Union’ is no walkover.

In recent months, CAIWU and its members have proved once again the old saying that unity is strength. The union has helped cleaning workers across the capital to achieve a series of high profile successes against some of the UK’s leading companies. With the union’s support, cleaners at Facebook, HSBC, the Royal Opera House, Ofcom and Nike Town, among many others, have successfully opposed bullying and discrimination, resisted having their workloads increased, and secured the London Living Wage. However, success comes at a price, and it’s no surprise that a string of successes of that scale should have resulted in a co-ordinated fightback by the cleaning contractors who pay the cleaners’ wages.

Companies such as Regular Cleaning, DOC Cleaning, Accelerate, InDepth and Kier didn’t achieve success by taking good care of their workers and paying them properly. If they had, perhaps actions such as Thursday’s protests wouldn’t be necessary. But these companies, along with many other cleaning contractors and facilities management companies, seem to make a habit of victimizing workers who stand up to them, and especially those who unite in mutual support.

For example, take Regular Cleaning at 1 Finsbury Circus, the scene of Thursday’s first demonstration. Last year they dismissed union activist Béatriz Acuna. When CAIWU challenged them about it, they promised to find her another job, but that turned out to be a lie. Four times now they’ve held out a carrot to Béatriz, and four times they’ve snatched it away again at the last minute. Regular says they care about their staff and want a good relationship with the union. CAIWU’s message to them is: the foundation of a good caring relationship is honesty. Start doing what you say, reinstate Béatriz, and the protests will stop. Until then, you’d better get used to it, because CAIWU isn’t going anywhere.

Then there’s DOC Cleaning at the Museum of London. For more than a year, CAIWU members there have been putting up with racism, bullying and abuse from their manager and supervisor. They’ve complained about it repeatedly, but DOC has done nothing to put things right. So CAIWU members paid them a visit on March 8th which led to the building having to be evacuated. That sort of thing isn’t good for business. Again, CAIWU’s message to DOC is quite simple. The abuse has to stop. If you sort out your managers and start behaving properly, then the protesters will go away. If you don’t, you can expect more of the same. And then the Museum might start to think of you as a historical artefact.

After DOC Cleaning, the protestors moved a few hundred yards down the road to 200 Aldersgate, where Thomas Cook has its London HQ. Number 200 is a huge landmark building with many cleaners, almost all of whom are paid the London Living Wage by their employer, Accelerate Facilities. But Thomas Cook doesn’t think its workers are worth that much. Despite negotiations that have been going on since last summer, they’re still refusing to pay up. And when, after six months, CAIWU wrote to Accelerate explaining that its members had had enough of waiting and were prepared to go on strike, they were told they were being unhelpful. It sometimes seems like anything poor people do to try and defend themselves is unhelpful. I guess they’re supposed to keep their heads down, behave themselves, work hard, and think themselves lucky whenever they’re thrown a few scraps from the table. On no account should they actually protest about being paid starvation wages. They’re supposed to just keep on going to work every day for less money than their colleagues in the same building. Accelerate and Thomas Cook need to wake up to what’s going on at 200 Aldersgate. The answer is simple, and it’s in their own hands. Pay the cleaners a sustainable living wage and they’ll stop protesting. Otherwise, they’d better buckle in because it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

After they’d finished at Thomas Cook, the protestors headed over to Arup’s offices in Fitzroy street, where more than a dozen CAIWU protestors entered the building and caused quite a commotion with their flags and vuvuzelas and the large megaphone wielded by General Secretary Alberto Durango. Looking slightly panicked, a member of Arup’s HR staff arrived after a while to see what all the fuss was about. This individual knows all about CAIWU, who contacted them last year when Arup’s cleaning contractor InDepth dismissed Victor Marques, one of its cleaners. Victor, who just happened to be a CAIWU activist, was dismissed for alleged aggressive behaviour. The key evidence was a piece of dubious video footage that actually tends to show the opposite—that if there was any aggression, he was on the receiving end of it. But InDepth wanted him gone, so they got rid of him after he complained about not being paid properly, and now they’re disciplining Nilza Mendes, another CAIWU member, for a similar alleged offence. They’re nothing if not consistent in their appalling and illegal treatment of union activists. Perhaps Arup will do what they promised CAIWU they would do, and speak to InDepth about their illegal employment practices. Perhaps Arup will refuse to put up any longer with this kind of discrimination in their workplace. Perhaps they’ll do what they ought to have done in the first place, and end their relationship with InDepth altogether, if only to preserve their own reputation. If not, Arup and InDepth both know what they can expect. Because CAIWU isn’t going anywhere—not until Victor is reinstated and the accusation against Nilza Mendes is withdrawn.

The day’s final protest took place at the Royal Opera House, where CAIWU supporters were joined by a large group of women who had been taking part in the concurrent Women’s Strike. The women’s involvement led to a magnificent show of support for the five CAIWU members were dismissed recently for allegedly falsifying their time-sheets. On New Year’s Day. After almost no sleep. When they’d already been working double shifts for weeks on end to help out Kier, their employer. Or for returning a single day late from their holidays due to a genuine mix-up over the dates. Despite having informed the boss they’d be late back. Kier, you can’t carry on like this. Dismissing people for a first offence is asking for trouble. And treating CAIWU members differently to your other staff is discrimination, which as you know is against the law. It’s obvious what you’re up to. You’re trying to break the cleaners union. But the union has a message for you—you won’t succeed. The protests will continue till you back down. Every day, if necessary. Which should make your customers at the Royal Opera House extremely happy. They already know CAIWU means business, after the legendary Living Wage demonstrations on BAFTAs night a couple of years ago. The cleaners don’t imagine either you or they will want to see a repeat of that.

As with Regular, and DOC, and Accelerate and InDepth, the answer is in your own hands. Reinstate the wrongfully dismissed workers, withdraw the outstanding disciplinary actions, and the protests will end. Otherwise, the protests of March 8th will be just the beginning.

It’s up to you—all of you. It really isn’t so difficult. Just do the right thing.

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    […] CAIWU day of action Thursday March 8th – On Thursday March 8th, CAIWU, the Cleaners and Allied Independent Workers Union, mounted four separate protests in response to a series of co-ordinated attacks on its members. Appropriately enough, the union chose International Women’s Day, the day of the Women’s Strike, to launch its fightback against the corporations that seem determined to destroy it. CAIWU may not be the biggest or wealthiest of unions, but the protests attracted up to 400 passionate supporters, who issued a powerful warning to their wealthy adversaries that the ‘Spanish Union’ is no walkover read more […]

    9 months ago

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