A participant's report on Friday's strike and picket by cleaners at Guildhall (City of London), in protest at late and unpaid salaries going back months.
We met at 5:30am at Guildhall. Many people went to give solidarity, and the cleaners, who work for the subcontractor Ocean Contract Cleaning, shouted slogans such as "No pay, no work". They painted their hands with the word stop and with their hands up shouting "Stop the Abuse."
The police approached us and told us we could not protest in an undercover area immediately facing the reception, but we could do so outside in front of the art gallery because it was a public space. Solidarity came from cleaners from other sites, Colombian solidarity campaign, UCL and SOAS workers and students, Unison, and representatives from other IWW branches.The local priest offered coffee and use of the church toilet to the strikers and their supporters [N.B. this was the same priest the police told us we were disturbing whilst using loud speakers. A local resident also joined our picket].
After 8am the Guildhall management who hire Ocean called us in to negotiate with them and Ocean, the. Two workers and two IWW union representatives went in. Guildhall asked us to move the demonstration, supposedly because it was private property (unlike what the police had told us earlier). In order to facilitate the negotiation and with the approval of the workers the demonstration moved to the street entrance to the Guildhall.
People remained firm and resolute, always chanting and singing. This clearly irritated the Guildhall management, who sent representatives to invite us to go and wait inside a conference room and stop the protest. The workers refused and continued shouting slogans in Spanish and English.
Over five hours after the picket began and long negotiations, Ocean finally provided us with evidence that they were solving the problem of unpaid wages, worker by worker and with figures. We took this to be a small victory.
The best thing about this protest was the determination and unity of the workers - despite intimidation from managers they remained solid throughout. This is just the beginning of this struggle. The workers, currently paid the minimum wage, are determined to go on to fight for the living wage.
Thanks to all who supported us, both at the protest and with solidarity messages.
"VICTORIA COMPAÑEROS" VENCEREMOS
THURSDAY 14 JULY: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
The Guildhall, London according to its own website was designed to show the power of London's ruling elite. This tradition is continued today by annual speeches by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Governor of the Bank of England. The most recent event was a dinner in tribute to the new Ronald Regan statue attended by the Foreign Secretary, Condoleezza Rice and other dignitaries.
Though regulary hosting wealthy patrons of this ancient and prestigious venue, the cleaning staff are failing to be paid for the actual hours they work. Whilst their hourly rate are far below the London Living Wage.
In June of this year, 34 cleaners employed by Ocean Contract Cleaning London struck for 2 days because of many workers receiving underpaid wages over the last 3 months. On average 2 weeks of wages were missing. The company promised to pay the overdue wages by the 20th of June and so the dispute was suspended.
However when the cleaners received their last pay packets, the company failed to keep their promises which resulted in the cleaners calling a new strike day for 15th July with a picket outside London Guildhall 5:30am to 10:00am.
The workers raised a collective grievance to review the salaries for the past 6 months but Ocean Contract Cleaning London are have ignored this and refuse to participate in any collective bargaining process.
The cleaners of Guildhall are on poverty pay rates of £5.95 per hour, whilst working in one of the most expensive cities in Europe and receiving no sick pay or pension. According to the London Living Wage Unit this is officially poverty pay and the London Living Wage has been set at £8.30.
There will be banners and support by fellow trade unionists including Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).