On Friday 13 July cleaners at the flagship John Lewis store on Oxford Street went on strike for the living wage. This is the first strike in the history of John Lewis.
Despite its public image as a cuddly cooperative employer, cleaning staff are currently paid £6.08 an hour - the minimum wage. They are in fact not direct employees of John Lewis and are therefore outside of the company's 'partnership' structures. They are demanding the London Living Wage of £8.30 and that recently announced redundancies and increased work load are stopped.
The cleaners have been organised through the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). The store has refused to recognise the union. This is the first strike that the recently established London-based cleaners branch of the IWW have organised.
The entrances to the shop were picketed by workers and their supporters from 5.30 in the morning. Cleaning contractor ICM shipped in staff from other stores and had managers accompanying the scab cleaners to ensure they wouldn't get a chance to fraternise too openly with the pickets. A couple of activists supporting the strike went to the Sloane Square to leaflet, managing to get one to most staff going in, before going round to the front entrance one it had opened. This prompted the personnel manager to come out enraged at the damage that could be done to the day's business.
The main focus though was definitely the Oxford Street store. Once the shop had opened for business, the presence of a loud, visible and aggressive demonstration outside the main entrance completely dominated the whole stretch of the road. This was replicated on the Saturday with a demonstration at peak shopping time at from 3-5pm. Over the course of the two days 10,000 leaflets were distributed. Over all the reception was very hopeful, with a lot of people taking leaflets and stopping to find out how they could support.
The cleaners are out again on Friday 20 July. Get down to the picket line at the Oxford Street store in London if you can, or organise a demonstration or a short stint of leafleting at a John Lewis near you. Solidarity demonstrations could be important for boosting the morale of the workers and for further damaging John Lewis' reputation.
Here are the stores across the country: http://www.johnlewis.com/Shops/DShome.aspx.