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Rebellion at the LSE: a cleaning sector inquiry

Notes on an inquiry of the cleaning sector in London and grassroots resistance by

Achille Marotta, Lydia Hughes

The cleaners’ struggle at the London School of Economics (LSE) had a resounding effect on the radical and trade union left. How could it not? The cleaners seemed to reverse history, beating the tide of precarity and outsourcing ‘at a time of stigmatization of migrant workers and weakening of trade unions’.1 After ten months of campaigning with United Voices of the World (UVW) – including seven strike days, several demonstrations, and two occupations – the cleaners not only achieved their demands of equal terms and conditions with in-house staff, but forced the LSE to employ them directly.


The struggle was spectacular, in every sense of the word. Black, migrant, precarious workers rebelled against exploitation and invisibility in the belly of the neoliberal beast. It was their turn to speak – and they did so outside of Unison and the official trade union recognition agreement. The student-run Justice for Cleaners campaign helped to organise this spectacle, which publicly shamed the university and disrupted its day-to-day functioning. This was the winning tactic. But however many solidarity breakfasts we organised, however long we spent on the picket line, we maintained a feeling of cluelessness. This turned into an awareness that the picket line – the spectacle – was only half of the story.


Strikes Aren’t for the Privileged


The claim that strikes are reflections of privilege is totally disconnected from the history of women’s labor organizing in the US. by Kate Aronoff

In discussing the historical precedents for Wednesday’s strike, several writers have pointed to recent actions abroad — like those in Iceland and Poland — and a 1970 women’s strike for equality in the workplace, organized by America’s National Organization for Women. American history, however, is rife with examples of women striking as workers, at considerable risk to their lives and livelihoods. Following mining and the building trades, for instance, the textile industry — staffed almost entirely by women — was the third most strike-prone industry in the country in the early 20th century. Here are just a few examples of women who walked off the job.

Bharat Bandh: Millions face-down Modi’s labour agenda

A massive, nationwide strike caused major disruption to India’s economy on 2 September, popularised as Bharat Bandh (literally ‘India closed’ in Hindi/Sanskrit). Some unions have claimed this was the largest general strike in history, with up to 150 million workers involved and costs to business of around $US 2.7 billion.


A significant feature of these strikes was the involvement of thousands of temporary workers, very few of whom have representation or support from trade unions. Another important strike took place recently in Bengaluru (Bangalore) where up to 400,000 workers emptied the city’s garments factories and flooded the streets in response to government changes to state pensions (the Provident Fund or PF). Key features of this strike included its primarily ‘wildcat’ character—local CTUOs were taken by surprise, despite having organised their own, much smaller response to the changes—and that the strikers were overwhelmingly women. This massive protest succeeded in deferring the Modi government’s plans.

Given that women tend to work outside the male-dominated structures of most trade unions, another highly significant development occurred in the tea plantations of Munnar in Kerala in September 2015, when female plantation workers established a new women migrant-led  union—Pembila Urumai (‘Unity of Women’ in Tamil)—to break with male-dominated unions that had virtually ignored their interests.


Are women and care professions leading a new type of union politics?

Recent effective election campaigns by nurses and teachers may point the way to new industrial campaigning on issues that is led by women and will shift beyond the traditional union-Labor party dynamic. Ben Spies-Butcher on

Political Unionism in the 21st Century: Women, care and social democracy

The rise of neoliberalism has seen unions struggle internationally, especially in the English speaking world. Yet, the experience in Australia was unique. During the 1980s and early 1990s a Labor Government oversaw market reform in close coalition with the union movement via a formal Accord. Industrially amalgamations coincided with substantial declines in union membership density. But the political centralisation necessitated by the Accord opened new strategies.


Buchanan and colleagues credit greater centralisation in the organisation of the labour movement with its enhanced ability to organise politically — a capacity exemplified by the Your Rights at Work campaign developed to oppose the radical labour market regulation policy, WorkChoices. In 2005, the union campaign mobilised thousands of workers up until the 2007 federal election. Subsequent analysis suggests it had a tangible impact on the election result, helping to elect a Labor Government that then moderated industrial relations laws.

There are clearly dangers for unions in shifting too far from industrial to political strategies. Yet, closer examination suggests opportunities to combine political and industrial strategies as the composition of union membership and structure of the economy change

Equal pay is a class issue: trade unions and the fight for equal pay in Australia

These days talk of class in NZ is often greeted with groans.  While this is not hard to understand when it comes from the right, it is often found on the left as well as many leftists have shifted …

Source: Equal pay is a class issue: trade unions and the fight for equal pay in Australia

Neoliberalism’s Exploitation of Women Workers: the true price of our clothing.

Neoliberalism has faced intense scrutiny over the years from Trade Unionists and Marxists alike for its exploitation of workers and insistence of an economic ‘trickle down’ effect that has yet to materialise. When you look closer, however, another troubling aspect of this industry emerges. Again and again, it seems to be women who are left behind by this system. In many countries in the global South, women are drawn into employment in the lowest paid and most undervalued work in the global economy at the end of Global Commodity Chains in the manufacturing, fresh produce and garment industries.

Zoe Kemp analyses the plight of female workers in the Bangladeshi textile sector.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the garment industry of Bangladesh, an industry cited by many as demonstrative of the “success” of neoliberalism through its fast growth and increased employment opportunities for women.

This exploitation presents itself in multiple ways. To start with, the majority of women work without a contract, and for those with a contract, they are usually short-term or temporary (Oxfam 2004: 5). Women workers are seen as expendable by their employers; easily replaced by a cohort of women ‘desperate’ for work no matter how insecure it may be. Not only is this exploitative in its own right, but it also severely limits women’s abilities to fight harassment or campaign for better conditions in the workplace out of fear that any protest will lead to their losing their job.

The Leadership and Legacy of Mother Jones and her Fight for Workers’ Rights

At the end of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century, industrial workers in the United States grew dissatisfied with the harsh working conditions and unfair treatment they faced. Irish American schoolteacher Mary Harris “Mother” Jones rose to prominence as an outspoken advocate for worker’s rights and led hundreds of strikes for the rights of miners, railway workers, and children.  Her fiery speeches and tenacious personality inspired a new age of progressive activists and left behind a legacy of legislative labor reform. Megan Murphy, a student at Merrimack High School in Merrimack, NH, won the Gold Medal and $1,000 prize in the American Labor History category for her web site The Leadership and Legacy of Mother Jones and her Fight for Workers’ Rights.cripple creek mother jones