Cleaners at the London School of Economics have won a significant victory today, as university bosses conceded to their demands to bring all cleaning services in-house ‒ resulting in a significant improvement to working conditions.
The largely immigrant and ethnic minority workforce of cleaning staff at LSE was formerly employed by private sector parasites Noonan, who subjected cleaners to far worse treatment than experienced by staff employed directly by the university.
Under Noonan, cleaners’ pensions, annual leave entitlement, and maternity leave were all pitiful, and sick pay so miserly that some workers had no choice but to drag themselves to work while ill ‒ or even injured. Worse still, Noonan would do the “dirty work” for the LSE ‒ intimidating staff to work excessive hours and victimising those who dared to object, allegedly treating employees “like the dirt [they] clean”.
A 10-month campaign by the United Voices of the World union, in collaboration with the student-led Justice for Cleaners group (and in solidarity with UNISON and UCU) demanded university management take on all cleaners currently working at LSE for the 2017/8 academic year.
Finally, following a total of 7 days of strike action and wide support from the student body, the bosses caved. This concession will ensure LSE cleaners receive, among other things: 41 days of annual leave, 6 months’ full pay sick pay and 6 months’ half pay sick pay, plus proper employer pension contributions of up to 13% of their salaries.
This is one of the most impressive victories by university workers in recent memory, and will come as a huge boost to cleaners still in dispute with their own bosses at King’s College London and SOAS. The final deal will soon be put to a vote by the near-100 per cent unionised cleaning staff at LSE, in addition to a transitory offer of enhanced terms and conditions until the move in-house takes place in 2018.
The Marxist Student Federation salutes cleaners and campaigners alike at LSE. This militant, cross-union struggle demonstrates the amazing feats workers can achieve when they put up a united front and refuse to bow to abuse and intimidation. Marketisation of the Higher Education sector cannot withstand the collective force of radical workers.
However, as we saw in the aftermath of the King’s College London living wage campaign in 2014, (which was successful, but led to university bosses immediately slashing hundreds of jobs to protect their profits), university bosses are no more generous than privateers like Noonan.
Comrades at LSE must now build on this victory, campaign to boot out the parasitic managers, and place the university under the control of workers and staff. Only workers’ control – of the higher education sector, and then the rest of society ‒ can put an end to exploitation once and for all.
By Joe Attard, KCL Marxists