Last Friday, a majority of the cleaners and porters working at the University of London's halls of residence in Bloomsbury – the Garden Halls – began a five-day strike. Later this summer the halls will be closed and demolished. Some of the staff will be moved to jobs elsewhere in the university, but many will be made redundant. They are employed by Cofely GDF Suez, the multinational firm to which the university outsources its cleaning and maintenance services. The last day of work is 30 June. The strike – unlikely to succeed at this point, as some of the workers admit – was held to demand that Cofely guarantee no compulsory redundancies and transfer all workers to other jobs, in the university or elsewhere, on the same pay and conditions.
Last Wednesday a peaceful occupation of Senate House in protest against outsourcing and privatisation at the University of London was broken up by force by university security and police. Security pulled and pushed students to the ground and dragged them out of the building, where around 100 police were waiting, holding off a crowd that had gathered in support of those inside. An officer punched a student in the face. Some were violently bundled to the ground and arrested. Protesters blocked the street as the police tried to drive those they’d arrested away. A woman was thrown to the ground screaming and her friends told they’d be arrested if they tried to help her.
On 4 December, the University of London was granted an injunction from the High Court that prohibits ‘persons unknown (including students of the University of London) from ‘entering or remaining upon the campus and buildings of University of London for the purpose of occupational protest action’ for the next six months. Many such injunctions have been granted to universities across the country over the past four years, with increasing frequency and ever wider restrictions on student protest. In this case, the University of London argued that the occupation of Senate House threatened the liberty and freedom of senior university personnel, and presented a risk of damage to property, despite assurances from the occupiers that staff were free to come and go from the building and no such damage would occur. The eventual eviction of the occupiers was rough and violent. On 5 December, 35 students were arrested and several of them detained overnight. Some were assaulted by the police.
After a thirty-month campaign for sick pay, holidays and pensions on the same terms as directly employed staff, and a two-day strike last week, outsourced cleaning, security and maintenance staff at the University of London have won major concessions from their employer, Balfour Beatty Workplace. The agreement doesn't give them the same rights as directly employed workers, and entitlements are dependent on length of service, but the changes are still significant. Instead of statutory sick pay, a cleaner who’s been in the job for six years could now be entitled to six months on full pay. ‘That's extremely rare in the cleaning industry,’ according to Jason Moyer-Lee, the secretary of the University of London branch of the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain.
For the past year, outsourced workers at the University of London have been demanding 3 Cosas – pensions, sick pay and holiday pay on the same terms as directly employed staff – and staging regular protests at Senate House with the support of students. Last week the university tried to put a stop to them.