On Wednesday 27 and Thursday 28 November, outsourced workers at the University of London will strike as part of their “3 Cosas” (“3 Things”) campaign for sick pay, holiday, and pension equality with their directly employed colleagues. The strike coincides with the University’s “Foundation Day”, due to be attended by Princess Anne. A protest is planned for 6pm on Wednesday 27 November at Senate House. A University of London worker spoke to Solidarity about the strike.
What are the demands of the strike?
There are three demands which form the basis of the industrial dispute between our union, the Industrial Workers union of Great Britain (IWGB) and our employer, Balfour Beatty Workplace.
The first issue is union recognition. We want a formal recognition agreement in order to set up a proper and formal negotiating infrastructure. Lots of the workplace issues that later turn in to formal grievances or industrial disputes could potentially be avoided if there was more dialogue between the company and the union.
The second issue is terms and conditions. The current terms and conditions for Balfour Beatty workers, specifically for sick pay, holidays, and pensions, are far inferior to those of direct employees of the University of London. We want parity in these terms and conditions between directly-employed and outsourced workers. The third issue is job losses. The University of London is planning on shutting down the Garden Halls, a halls of residence where many of our members are employed as cleaners, next summer. We want the company to re-allocate these workers within the company as vacancies arise in order to prevent job losses.
What can people do to support the strike?
There are two important ways people can support the strike. The first is by coming to Senate House, where workers will gather, on the strikes days. We will be there from 6am to 1pm on the 27 November, and from 6am to 3pm on 28 November. The second way to help is by donating to the strike fund, so that those low paid workers going on strike won’t lose as much money. You can donate online here.
What do you think about the University’s use of surveillance and police intimidation, including arrest, against activists on campus?
The University of London has turned to increasingly aggressive tactics in order to silence the campaign. This includes attempting to ban protests on campus, collaborating with the police in order to arrest students, closing off spaces on campus with barricades and chains, and filming staff and students who protest peacefully. The University of London is resorting to these tactics because they simply do not have a moral argument.
Furthermore, after the campaign ignored the University’s ban on peaceful protests, I believe that management felt the need to become even more aggressive in order to not lose face. Given that they are now arresting people for organising demonstrations, and the demonstrations continue to occur, I am not sure what their next move will be. Perhaps banning students from campus altogether? Gandhi once said, “First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. Then they fight you. Then you win.” It is comforting to know we are nearing the end.
What’s the relationship between outsourced staff and directly-employed workers?
Despite the fact that the bulk of IWGB members at the University of London branch are outsourced workers, we have an increasing number of members who are employed directly by the University. Some have joined out of solidarity with the outsourced workers. However, more and more workers have joined in order to be part of a union that stands for something, is willing to defend workers in disciplinaries and grievances, and puts the worker first. Together with Unite, UCU, and Unison, we balloted our direct employee members to strike in the recent pay dispute. They struck on 31 October, and mounted joint pickets with UCU and Unison members. On 27 and 28 November, the directly-employed IWGB members will also strike.
Our branch meetings are open to all members, no matter who the employer. Mutual support and coordinated action will benefit both the outsourced workers and the direct employees.
What else does campaign have planned?
27 and 28 November are just the first strike days. If we do not make progress we will continue with a series of rolling strikes until Balfour Beatty starts to take us seriously. The status quo, where outsourced workers are forced to work when sick or injured, do not have enough time to visit family, and don’t have a decent pension, simply cannot continue. We have offered to sit down at the negotiating table with Balfour Beatty on various occasions. We agreed to talks through ACAS, but after four and a half hours of dithering they offered nothing.
We had a 97% yes vote in our ballot. We expect the picket line to be quite large.