Cleaners success heralds a rebirth of industrial unionism

Cleaners success heralds a rebirth of industrial unionism

The dispute of cleaners at the John Lewis Partnership’s flagship at Oxford Street store has ended with significant success for the workers who took strike action in July.

Press release, reproduced via -

The dispute of cleaners at the John Lewis Partnership’s flagship at Oxford Street store has ended with significant success for the workers who took strike action in July.

The members of the IWW Cleaners' Branch announced a resounding mandate from its members to take strike action, the strike ballot had an 80% turnout with 90% voting in favour of industrial action.

The cleaner took strike action on 13th July and on 20th July in protest at a planned cuts in jobs and hours, a further strike set for Thursday 26th July as the Olympic Torch passed the store was cancelled following fresh talks with the cleaning contractor ICM (Compass Group) and the facilities company MML hired by John Lewis Partnership.

Our union has reached an agreement with the employers that members have voted to accept that has halted the compulsory cuts in jobs and hours for the cleaners. Chris Ford Secretary of the cleaners union Industrial Workers of Great Britain (IWGB) said: ‘First 50% of cleaners hours were to be cut, then nearly a third of the work-force were to be made redundant, now after a courageous struggle not a single cleaner at John Lewis Oxford street will be forced to loose their job. In an age of austerity this is no small achievement’.

In addition to defending their jobs, the cleaners at John Lewis turned the situation of cuts around to one where they have secured a 10% pay increase backdated to the start of the contract in March 2012 with increased shift allowances. Hours of work have been re-organised to reduce the excessive shifts cleaners’ workers, some being available for work during unpaid breaks.

Whilst considering the pay and allowance increases a significant step forward from the £6.08 per-hour cleaners earned the IWGB consider it still a stepping-stone towards the London Living Wage of £8.30 per-hour set by the Greater London Authority. Defending jobs does not mean the Living Wage has ceased to be a key objective. In recent months, the IWGB has increased in membership of cleaners across the John Lewis stores and many workers are looking for real change. Cleaners now know they can win; the IWGB will be holding the John Lewis Partnership and its contractors to account in the coming months with regard to the ongoing discussions to lift the cleaners out of poverty pay.

The John Lewis Partnership and its sub-contractors need to take note of the widespread solidarity the cleaner gained from across the Labour Movement. Steve Hedley, Assistant General Secretary of RMT and Chris Baugh, Assistant General Secretary of the PCS both addressed pickets at John Lewis, Chris said: "The PCS fully supports the John Lewis workers' demand for the living wage. Employers who sub-contract poverty pay, like the government and John Lewis, need to be both exposed and taken on." Twenty-four MP’s signed an Early Day Motion 301 submitted by John McDonnell MP showing their support for the John Lewis Cleaners, many writing directly to Charlie Mayfield, John Lewis Chairman.

The IWGB extends heartfelt thanks to all the members of the labour movement who gave solidarity to the cleaners and the countless customers of John Lewis who wrote in support of the cleaners struggle.


Building on its recent successes in a series of disputes with employers the IWW London Regional Committee has in conjunction with a range of other members of the labour movement taken the decision to re-launch as the Industrial Workers of the Great Britain. The IWGB was originally founded in January 1909 with the aim of creating a new force in the British labour movement the re-launched IWGB adheres to the same goals advanced then – ‘the immediate object of the Industrial Workers of Great Britain is to build up a militant Industrial Union’.

The IWGB sets as a goal organising the unorganised with its militant organising drive a springboard for future expansion.

The IWGB recognises we live in tough times - austerity policies are reducing our standard of living. Everywhere employers are seeking to maximise their profits by job cuts, making people work harder, longer and paying them as little as possible. But there is an alternative. Our union stands on the principle to get workplace justice. Solidarity wins!

IWGB is an independent union. We are a voluntary association of workers fighting only for the interests of workers. We are not in ‘partnership’ with bosses, held back by bureaucrats or pleasing establishment politicians.


Such is the scale of the problems we face today we cannot afford to address them separately - piecemeal solutions are not enough because these problems are a product of the system we live under. This dog eat dog system cannot work in the interests of the majority. Industrial unionism links the struggles of today with the need for a new society fit for human beings. This ideal has nothing in common with the totalitarian ‘communism’ proclaimed in Russia and China! Or even the old Labour Party model of state-ownership. We want more freedom and democracy not dominated by party bosses and state bureaucrats. We seek a co-operative, sustainable society that puts a decent life for people before profits, for democratic self-management and social ownership, instead of control of our lives by corporations and their politicians.

Despite the many problems working class people face, the potential to change things for the better is within our reach, but we can only do it if we organise together. Join the fighting union for the 21st century.

- END -

Press release, reproduced via -

Posted By

working class s...
Aug 15 2012 23:08


Attached files


Aug 15 2012 23:24

It's great news that the cleaners won the John Lewis struggle, and I wish them good luck.
But the 'rebirth' bit in the press release is a fraud IMO - going from "Industrial Workers of the World" to "Industrial Workers of Great Britain" seems like a step back. It'd be industrial unionism in one country, except it isn't industrial since they are organising cleaners by trade it seems.

Aug 15 2012 23:56

Too bad the struggle of these workers isn't 'pure' enough you.
I take it you were against organising the cleaners, without organising the entire workforce of JLP, in which case you would have been against doing ANYTHING.
You can stuff your congratualtions.

Aug 16 2012 00:45

Well, I won't offer congrats then as you'll ask me to stuff them as well....but I am confused the IWGB different from the IWW (BIROC)? As I recall my history, the IWGB was like close to DeLeonism and the Delonist oriented "Detroit IWW".

OK, here's what Wiki says:

So, are there now two seperate and distinct organizations with "Industrial Workers of...." in their name?

Aug 16 2012 01:31

So the IWGB is an attempt to form something different from BIROC, so it seems.

Juan Conatz
Aug 16 2012 02:12

IWGB is a split from the UK IWW (BIRA). The reasons are unclear to me, and I don't know enough about the IWW in the UK to speculate. I've heard a couple different reasons based on who is telling the story.

Aug 16 2012 03:03
eccarius wrote:
Too bad the struggle of these workers isn't 'pure' enough you.

I mean, it's not even about purity. It doesn't make sense to call yourself an industrial union if you clearly aren't.

eccarius wrote:
I take it you were against organising the cleaners, without organising the entire workforce of JLP, in which case you would have been against doing ANYTHING.

Sorry, but this is stupid. Nobody's saying they shouldn't organize at all unless they organize the entire workplace first and I think you know that. However, I think that most of us would expect that an industrial union would at least make the effort to expand organizing efforts beyond a single trade. But it seems unlikely that this would be the case since the Cleaners Branch wouldn't even admit other workers from their same workplace if they asked to join (if I'm wrong, say so but in that case they should probably change their name). Now I'll admit that maybe the John Lewis strike might be a special case, however it's not the only organizing effort that the Cleaners Branch has done along trade unionist lines.

eccarius wrote:
You can stuff your congratualtions.

So what, everybody has to uncritically accept everything that you do or their help or congratulations are null? Sorry, but that's bullshit. If you disagree with somebody's critique ignore it or respond and say why their critique is wrong. It almost feels like the people around the cleaners branch actively don't want other people's support.

Aug 16 2012 07:17

The "IWGB" is the IWW affiliate in Great Britain. links to

Juan Conatz
Aug 16 2012 07:25

No, they split. It mentions it in this article.

Aug 16 2012 07:40

My head hurts! Is there any other wobs from britain who can clear this up?

Serge Forward
Aug 16 2012 07:44
eccarius wrote:
Too bad the struggle of these workers isn't 'pure' enough you.
I take it you were against organising the cleaners, without organising the entire workforce of JLP, in which case you would have been against doing ANYTHING.
You can stuff your congratualtions.

Once you start off with the 'I take it you were against...' strawman nonsense and make allegations of others being 'too pure' even though you're actually the one who split from the parent organisation because it had a wider political remit than your own, then understandably, your credibility takes something of a nosedive.

klas batalo
Aug 16 2012 07:47

definitely a split heard of it before it hit libcom

Aug 16 2012 08:28

Yawn, yawn. Too much keyboard and purity bothering here for me, so just a brief observation - isn't that the IWW logo on the banner the successful workers are holding?

Serge Forward
Aug 16 2012 08:41
jimsnopes wrote:
isn't that the IWW logo on the banner the successful workers are holding?


Aug 16 2012 09:24

AWL trolls posting on this thread

Aug 16 2012 09:51
eccarius wrote:
You can stuff your congratualtions.

So are you a cleaner? Seems like you feel entitled to speak for the cleaners for sure.

Aug 16 2012 09:48

Anyone notice that the only person this post quotes is Chris Ford? Chris isn't a cleaner, and it's unlikely that there actually was a vote to form a new union within the Cleaner's campaign. Chances are that Chris convinced the 1-2 other people who have been working as volunteer organizers in the campaign that they should split, and thinks that he has some right to tell the rank-and-file what to do. One thing is for sure- that kind of bureaucratic mentality has no place in the IWW. Chris can take his wannabe bureaucrat clown act and leave, but it's up to the members themselves to decide what union they would like to be in.

Aug 16 2012 09:57

I'm not a wob rothgard - but fucking well said!

Aug 16 2012 11:48
It almost feels like the people around the cleaners branch actively don't want other people's support.

No, they definitely want the support of reformist trade unions, liberal broadsheet newspapers, and politicians - it's just people with red and black flags that are a no-no, 'cos you know, it's not an anarchist union.


Awesome Dude
Aug 16 2012 23:15

This "momentous event" has been on the cards for over a year now. I personally think this is a healthy development for a variety of reasons. But first just to clarify a few facts:

1. The London Regional Committee has no legal standing in IWW-BIRA. In it's recent form it was literally a one man committee designed to let the main organiser of the cleaners branch basically do whatever he wanted. This included launching and editing an "official paper" without bothering to ask the wider membership what should go in and who should edit it.

2. IWW-BIRA was never invited to send delegates to attend as observers to witness the launch of the IWGB. So we have an organisation that would like IWW-BIRA tobe an affiliate without first bothering to demonstrate how it carries out it's basic decision making.

3. The new organisation has the IWW logo on it's joiners forms. Who in IWW-BIRA was approached by IWGB to reproduce the IWW's logo on it's material?

4. The vast majority of the cleaners have never met the wider IWW membership (this was intentionally engineered with the help of a well known Australian Trade Union full-timer). So when the 'leading' organising core criticise IWW-BIRA for not doing enough to support the cleaners branch, the majority of cleaners simply have no appreciation of what's being criticised.

5. The initial accusations by of 'not giving enough support by the 'leading' organising core of the cleaners branch first started with the London General Members Branch about this time last year. This lead to an interesting situation where BIRA heavily influenced by its national officers swung behind the cleaners branch. I suspect due to an unhealthy mix of romantic leftist workerism (e.g. give anything to the poor third world workers without criticism or expectation of collective accountability), excitement of finally having a militant branch with precarious workers and a serious misunderstanding of the mismatch between the prefered organising methods of the leading organisers in/helping the cleaners branch and BIRA-IWW's financial and human limitations.

The IWW Cleaners Branch has a history that long precedes it's current formation and there is much confusion about it's origins and how it actually operates. For those of you interested here are some articles about the formation of the cleaners movement. The first is an article written by a member of the Latin American Workers Association who has had ties with the branch since it's inception and the second a report from a talk given at a bookfair:

The Cleaners Branch (or movement) in it's various forms (LAWA's, UNITE or IWW) has achieved a hell of a lot. It single handidly established the feasibility of organising precarious 'out sourced' workers and giving them the space to militantly fight for serious improvements in working conditions and wages.

There's much that can be said about the cleaners branch/movement but the most important question mark remains over it's long term sustainability. There are about 3 to 5 main organisers (two of whom are not cleaners) who do most of the casework and campaign organising rather than the workers themselves taking on most of the organising details collectively. This has resulted in centralisation around the cleaners branches two most active organisers who both have exceptional but rare qualities not easily reproduced: one brilliant at motivating fellow cleaner workers around him and the other at with commanding knowledge of workplace law and an extensive contact list of leading trade unionists & parliamentarians.

Last year the cleaners branch resorted to 'aid' from a parliamentarian (John McDonnell MP) which has recently taken the form of an early day motion in the British Parliament:

Early day motion 301

This imo is the result of the cleaners branch having less effective industrial power to win disputes (a good example was the 'defeat' suffered at London Guildhall) unlike the tube or bus workers and so being forced to resort to methods beyond workers direct control like early day motions in Parliament. I think this is a tactical mistake in the long term if the ambition is proletarian revolution. When the accumulated weight of experience and perspectives of past workers movement (early revolutionary 20th century in particular) is taken into account it would be wise for any workers organisation to avoid utilising parliament and it's parliamentarians no matter what views or positions they hold towards the workers movement (the same applies to Trade Unionists even more!).

The issue of shop floor organisation and what is meant by workers control was imo the main reason behind an open letter sent from some members of London IWW General Members Branch to the rest of the Union. It basically asked the Union to seriously consider how it should go about it's organising with heavy preference given to the long held wobblie shop floor model of workers democracy. I think that with it's annual general conference round the corner IWW-BIRA should seriously discuss what it means by workplace democracy and how far it's willing to bend it's traditional preference for encouraging all members tobe organisers by self-organising their own workplaces with out resorting to supermen organisers from outside.

Chilli Sauce
Aug 16 2012 23:32

Thanks for the AD.

Aug 17 2012 00:21
eccarius wrote:
Too bad the struggle of these workers isn't 'pure' enough you.
I take it you were against organising the cleaners, without organising the entire workforce of JLP, in which case you would have been against doing ANYTHING.
You can stuff your congratualtions.

You are Chris Ford and I claim my five pounds...

Aug 17 2012 03:19

Speaking of "Workers Liberty" (AWL):

John Lewis cleaners' battle forces concessions
Submitted on 15 August, 2012 - 12:55

A strike campaign by cleaning workers at John Lewis' flagship store in London's Oxford Street has forced bosses to back off from a cuts plan, as well as winning wage increases for workers.

Cleaning contractor ICM (part of the Compass Group) had been planning to make compulsory cuts to cleaning workers' hours, meaning a loss of pay, as well as making compulsory redundancies. The workers' strikes have succeeded in halting the cuts plan. Not a single worker will now face redundancy.

Although the key demand of the strike, to win a pay increase to the London Living Wage of £8.30 per hour, has not yet been met, the cleaners have won a 10% pay increase.

Their union, the Industrial Workers of Great Britain (an offshoot of the Industrial Workers of the World), says that winning the living wage remains "the key objective", and that the confidence and momentum gained from the victories over cuts will help galvanise an ongoing campaign against poverty pay.

Aug 17 2012 06:33

JoeMaguire wrote:
eccarius wrote:
You are Chris Ford and I claim my five pounds...

No win. I'm Spartacus.

I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night. He didn't look like you.

Aug 17 2012 09:06

Thanks AD. One important question remains though: will the IWGB be able to go on strike in future, or does the split mean that the cleaners branch is no longer part of a certified union? Maybe they are becoming part of another lefty trade union?

Aug 17 2012 09:28

First you have "Humanity" in your corner, and now Joe Hill is appropriated! You must be very well connected to make such grand claims!

I met 'the important organiser who is a cleaner' and was very impressed by him, lovely family, thought he was a good man. All the best to him, and the ex-Wobs who form the new IWGB.

Chris Ford - don't know him apart from what he's wrote. He seems desperate for a fight, which in my experience is a good reason not to give him one, and let him carry on scheming and plotting like a seething badger in the shadows instead.

The advertising by IWGB of any links to the IWW has to stop today tho, they are a different organisation with no right to ANY IWW imagery or to use any of our resources.

The BIRA has a shitload of business of its own to deal with at the moment. I recognise this is a big deal, with a personal angle, which must make it very difficult for Londoners, but for the rest of us its business as usual as far as I'm concerned.

Aug 17 2012 13:01

IWW have made this response

Rob Ray
Aug 17 2012 13:57
The advertising by IWGB of any links to the IWW has to stop today tho, they are a different organisation with no right to ANY IWW imagery or to use any of our resources.

Actually regardless of what the IWGB does I think it's probably important for the IWW to make it clear the cleaners' branch is still within their legal aegis until matters have been cleared up and the cleaners themselves consulted fully on the situation and its ramifications - otherwise it could potentially open them to a counterattack from their bosses on the grounds they no longer have a legal bulwark for their activities. Seriously astonished that Ford and Durango would do something so stupid and potentially put their own members at risk.

Aug 17 2012 14:55

Yes this is really dangerous for those cleaners currently in organised in IWW shops.

I hope the IWW can make it clear to those cleaners to be careful about openly affiliating to the IWGB, which currently possesses no legal standing as a union, something it has been particularly quiet about.

Serge Forward
Aug 17 2012 15:21

Aye. I hate to go all legalistic and kow-tow to the anti-union laws but they need to be aware that anything carried out under the name IWGB will most likely be classed as unprotected and therefore unlawful action.
eek eek eek

Chilli Sauce
Aug 17 2012 16:08

I mean, if that's the course of action they want to go, that's pretty bad-ass and is very...ummm...anarchist.

However, given the history I doubt that's there strategy. My dislike of the (now) IWGB leadership aside, I can't imagine they haven't considered how they're going to maintain their trade union registration and protection--especially given their links to lefty trade union officials. I imagine we'll hear more soon...

I know when unions register, it's publicly available. Does anyone know where that information is kept online and has anyone had a look to see if the IWGB appears anywhere in that documentation?