The struggle at Leicester Square School of English: The story so far

The struggle at Leicester Square School of English:  The story so far

Having already occupied their school, staff at the Leicester Square School of English are organising a picket this Saturday, 17th of January. Here's why.

Since the Christmas holidays, workers at the Leicester Square School of English have been in a major wage theft dispute with the school and its owner, Craig Tallents. Both the Angry Language Brigade and the IWW have been organising the dispute.

Over the Christmas break, staff at the Leicester Square School of English received a nasty surprise: the school was permanently shutting down. Or, to be more precise, one teacher received a letter informing her the school was shutting down. The other two teachers – who were on illegal self-employed contracts – didn't get as much as an email or a phone call, nevermind a letter.

The result is that these three did not receive any statutory notice pay and, as a consequence of their being on illegal contracts, had received no statutory holiday pay either. In addition, two other former employees are owed a substantial sum of money for unpaid wages and unpaid paternity leave.

The aggrieved teachers responded quickly by organising an occupation of the school, which they quickly discovered had been gutted by management: phone cords cut, computer hard drives removed, and files shredded. Staff also discovered that LSSE owed money to many other people, in particular a cleaner who had received no wages for three months and several host families left unpaid for accommodation provided to students.

During the occupation, staff managed to track down the owner of the school, Craig Tallents. When they put forward their grievance, a audibly shaken Craig told them, “Companies go out of business all the time, that's capitalism.”

The following day, the workers of LSSE received their next big surprise. As they'd been occupying the school over the weekend, staff were present when a dozen students arrived on the Monday morning expecting lessons as usual. Worse still, a number of students had arrived in London that weekend. The school told them to arrive at school on Monday morning and the accommodation – which they'd already paid for – would be arranged.

Had it not been for the occupying teachers, Craig Tallents and the management of the Leicester Square School of English would have literally left these vulnerable students out in the cold. The response of one - “Why did they steal our money? You must to call the police.” - sums up the shock, distress and anger caused by this flagrant violation of moral and social responsibility.

Filled with a righteous anger over the treatment of their students, the staff moved forward with the next stage in their campaign. Knowing the owner of LSSE, one Craig Tallents, was also a governor at the posh Bancroft's school in Essex, staff requested supporters email the school and post messages on the school's Facebook page politely informing the school of Craig's shady, immoral actions.

Victory was quick and fast: within hours Craig had resigned as governor!

At this point the workers, acting through their IWW representative, reached out to Craig to negotiate. A phone call was made and a deadline given. Craig – in what can only be described as an act of breathtaking stupidity – ignored it. The campaign continued.

Staff had done their research. They knew Craig has other business interests, not the least of which includes the bizarre and almost comical Asparagus Management Consulting. A “communications blockade” was quickly organised. Again, scores of supporters bombarded Asparagus' website and Twitter feed demanding Craig pay his staff.

Victory #2 was quick in coming: The website of Asparagus Consulting went “under construction” within hours of the blockade beginning.

So, that's where we are now. And we have a message for you Craig: this isn't over yet.

There's a picket planned for this Saturday the 17th. It begins at 11:30am in Leicester Square. Look for the banners.

So what can supporters do?

1) Post messages of solidarity on your organisation's websites, Facebook pages, and Twitter feeds.
2) Come to Saturday's picket!
3) Tweet the following message:

@AskAsparagus Craig Tallents, pay up! No liquidators - deal directly with your staff #CraigTallentsPayYourStaff

For any other language teaching workers – not just in London and not just teachers – if you're facing anything from a bullying boss to unpaid wages, don't hesitate to contact the Angry Language Brigade. It's only when we stick together and support each other that we can beat back the Craig Tallentses of this world:

teflsolidarity (a) gmail.com
Facebook
Via private message at libcom.org

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LSSE A5.pdf5.02 MB

Posted By

Angry Language ...
Jan 15 2015 08:03

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  • Teachers responded quickly by organising an occupation of the school, which they quickly discovered had been gutted by management: phone cords cut, computer hard drives removed, and files shredded.

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Comments

Angry Language ...
Jan 15 2015 18:48

Yeah, we just realised that I'm afraid. Chalk it up as another victory, eh?

If anyone posts solidarity statements, please link here!

Chilli Sauce
Jan 15 2015 19:50

Here's an article about LSSE's closure. Some good short comments confirming the fact it was teachers - and certainly not management - who directed the students to English UK would be appreciated. Keep it civil.

http://thepienews.com/news/leicester-square-school-english-closes-doors/

Angry Language ...
Jan 16 2015 09:13
Angry Language ...
Jan 16 2015 09:18

Also, as it appears Craig has taken down the Asparagus Twitter feed, please feel free to send messages of solidarity to

@AngryLang

using the hashtag

#CraigTallentsPayYourStaff

Skool Kidz
Jan 16 2015 20:06

I never knew IWW organised any language teachers: 10 out of 10. And I hope things turn out well for you all.

I know a little about current EF Language Schools Ltd. contracts. Other than the privileged less than 10% of teachers on permanent contracts all other teachers work on a zero-hours basis. That pay is less than £14 an hour; it means with the minimum wage being £6.50 the paid preparation time (including photocopying) is 69mins for each hour taught. An inexperienced teacher will easily take 2hrs minimum to prepare each teaching hour. Welcome to the world of self-exploitation.

Very few language schools have detailed publicly available accounts because they are privately owned. EF is owned by a family from Sweden now residing, like so many rich European emigrés, in folksy Switzerland. They are a multinational, in 52 countries, employing 37 000 in 500 schools.

One other small but pointed point: the zero-hours contract includes a clause asking staff to allow their property to be searched by management whenever they think it would be a good idea. Perhaps surprisingly the contract is honest enough to say this can only be done with the employee's consent. But with no hours guaranteed who's going to even think of objecting? Go ahead. Search my knickers too while you're at it. As their 'Social Responsibility' page says, "Helping people is an every day part of our business."
http://www.ef.edu/about-ef/company/responsibility/

Chilli Sauce
Jan 16 2015 22:16

Skool, would you like to write up an account for the Angry Language Brigade blog?

Generally, I'd say we tend to focus more on personal accounts, but there's some really worthwhile facts and figures in there that deserve their own article.

You've worked for EF, I imagine?

akai
Jan 17 2015 08:55

In one language school in Poland this news was put on the bulletin board and all teachers asked to send their solidarity.

I will not write too much about the unionizing efforts there, because they have only had moderate results. I will send a version of the union´s bulletin here when done, which will explain more.

The education union, which includes people from various educational institutions, including a few in TEFL, was campaigning against precarious working conditions and started by writing some expose and spreading information. As a result, the authorities, who are interested in gaining revenue, not in workers´ rights, decided to crack down on local language schools which were not paying for social security/state health insurance. (The government claims it plans to crack down on trash contracts in the future but this action at the language schools preceeded all this by a few years.)

As a result of increasing inspections, we talked to the management of one school about possible penalties, problems for workers, etc. To everybody's great surprise, it announced that it would be paying the social security/ health payments and all benefits. Very language few schools do this and even when they do, it is usually for a fraction of the workers.

Everybody was happy for months. Then the fall semester started. The bosses spoke to the workers one by one. They explained that the market is competitive and they cannot afford to pay all these benefits. They still would pay them, but they asked the workers to either take a reduction in pay or to establish their own business and invoice the school.

A huge problem was that many people found out about this only in October, after they worked all of September. And the school wanted to do this retroactively.

Another problem was that very few of the teachers know each other. The school does not have many on-site classes. It has two locations, both small. One has only 4-5 people working there, part-time. Most of the teachers work in company or at clients and do not know each other. Thus the information did not spread.

By the time any of the organized people found out, many people had already agreed. It was probably on purpose that certain people found out last. This group however refused both proposals.

This means that they now earn more than the other workers. This is not the first time this has happened in this city. Another effort to organize some years ago at a huge school was undermined by this.

We can expect that the ones that earn more will be phased out by simply giving them fewer classes or not giving them any more work in upcoming semesters. All these people have work elsewhere and are prepared for this possibility.

Given such a situation, you would think they'd have no motivation to try and organize, but some efforts are being made. It is an uphill battle. The fact is that in this country, pay discrimination is the norm and each worker is expected to negotiate his or her own wages. As one can imagine, younger workers looking for experience or ones for smaller towns looking for work routinely undercut wages and drive them down.

There is some effort being made to educate people on why this situation hurts all of us, but a rather individualistic approach dominates, which is fostered by this culture. EFL teachers are treated like individual business people who need to market themselves and the cheaper the better.

This information was a hot topic in one of the schools. This sort of closing up shop and leaving people stranded is common in this country. It can happen to any of us. Unfortunately, many workers only organize themselves after they've been screwed. Teachers discussed the need to organize beforehand. Some students saw the article and talked about it. All of them had heard stories like that before. When asked, none of them said he or she was a union member and there were rather negative remarks about unions. They were told that some unions, like the one in the language school, were unions of workers, not of bureaucrats.

Good to see this happening.

Chilli Sauce
Jan 17 2015 09:22

iexist, of course you can, man.

Akai, that's great! Please send solidarity from the Language Angry Brigade and London's TEFL teachers back to Poland!

Also, any chance I could persuade you to write up that post as an account for the ALB blog? To be honest, it's mostly a cut and paste jobbie, but with maybe a few quotes from the workers involved?

Thanks and solidarity!

Angry Language ...
Jan 18 2015 09:11

We'd like to thank everybody who came down to the picket yesterday.

Total turnout was about 25, including a couple of ex-LSSE students, which was really nice. The IWW are great about turning out their numbers and the picket was generally rowdy and good-spirited. Craig Tallents now has various chants - and banners - dedicated to him personally.

Hundreds of leaflets (now attached to the OP) were handed out and anyone who stopped to talk to us was entirely supportive. We even had a couple of journalists-types show up and various people who want to write about the struggle in personal capacity or on their blogs.

As report-backs come in, we'll probably start a separate blog posting them up, so keep a lookout.

Noah Fence
Jan 18 2015 18:44

Anything happening tomorrow(Monday)? I'm in London and would like to offer my support if I can.

Chilli Sauce
Jan 18 2015 21:14

Ah, nothing happening tomorrow, I'm afraid, but as long as you're in the neighborhood....

https://www.facebook.com/events/843999185662475/

Noah Fence
Jan 18 2015 22:18

Might make it for just before 2 but probably not.
You gonna be around Chilli? Coffee or drink later in the afternoon?

DanHester
Jan 19 2015 10:43

Now schools are running like the business companies. If school will stop giving profits it will be closed down, but schools are for social cause. It literates those who will be changing the fate of the country. Faculty members are now jobless, this is ridiculous.

Chilli Sauce
Jan 21 2015 14:24

Great write-up from the picket here:

https://tradeonion.wordpress.com/2015/01/21/iww-picket-leicester-square-...

This will go up as an ALB blog later on today.

Chilli Sauce
Jan 26 2015 08:39
Chilli Sauce
Feb 9 2015 13:41

Solidarity statement from the Radical Librarian's collective:

https://radlibcollective.wordpress.com/2015/01/19/statement-of-rlcs-soli...

Chilli Sauce
Feb 9 2015 13:45
Chilli Sauce wrote:
Here's an article about LSSE's closure. Some good short comments confirming the fact it was teachers - and certainly not management - who directed the students to English UK would be appreciated. Keep it civil.

http://thepienews.com/news/leicester-square-school-english-closes-doors/

Looks like these bums aren't accepting any comments that challenge the official line, but they do have a Twitter feed...

https://twitter.com/thepienews/status/552817608333201409

Have fun and try to include the hashtag: #CraigTallentsPayYourStaff