At the London School of Economics the cleaning contract is held by ISS, a multinational with lots of privatised cleaning contracts, including the London Underground. The cleaners are mainly Latin American with poor English and a fear of joining a union or speaking out about their lousy pay and conditions.
As a result of a campaign by Justice for Cleaners, the LSE has adopted the London Living Wage which is higher than the National Minimum Wage. However, it was phased in over three years of the new cleaning contract.
Worse, the workers are paying for it. They are currently paid £6 per hour but staffing has been cut and they have to work harder. This has affected standards of cleaning - management blame the new contract for mice in the Library.
iss is well known on the Underground for using immigration controls to victimise organisers and intimidate the workforce. Union activists in the recent strike by cleaners on the Underground have been suspended without pay, allegedly for working with bogus or incorrect National Insurance numbers. They’ve worked with these numbers for years - this is simply victimisation.
National Physical Laboratories once arranged an immigration raid on its cleaners to cut the workforce and cut costs. iss is rumoured to have used document checks against workers at the LSE earlier this year. Hard facts are difficult to come by due to the reluctance of cleaners to talk to union activists, but there is a suspicion that the workforce was cut by this method.
LSE likes to think of itself as special, it’s paternalistic. Its apparent benevolence - especially if your face fits - helps to undermine union membership as many people think they don’t need a union. Yet scratch the surface and the need for organisation couldn’t be clearer.
We have to organise in solidarity with cleaners and push for the contract to be taken back in house on the grounds that it isn’t really value for money. We also have to recognise that immigration controls are a means of undermining pay and conditions and disciplining vulnerable workers, and oppose them.