On November 21, workers at the University of London struck over outsourced contracts, insecure hours, and pay.
A loud protest organised by their trade union, the IWGB, took place outside the iconic Senate House during the university’s Foundation Day — when the Chancellor, Princess Anne, visits. The dispute is made up of mostly security guards, cleaners, porters, post room workers, and receptionists.
The workers in this dispute are not alone. A student campaign, “Justice for UoL Workers”, has staged various stunts and protests. Workers from other unions and disputes, including the McDonald’s and Picturehouse, have been showing their solidarity in this campaign. Student-worker solidarity and wider community support is what will push the Senate House campaign over the edge. Last year, students at SOAS occupied over cuts to catering staff; they stopped the cuts and now the university has promised to bring all staff in-house. With image-obsessed unis, building the student and community side is how you win.
The majority of the workers at UoL are BME migrants on precarious, low-paid contracts. The IWGB has called the treatment of these workers “racist” as white British staff at UoL are more likely to have secure, in-house contracts. It’s no surprise that this is the case. As we have seen, parts of the labour movement is rife with anti-migrant rhetoric, anything from refusing to organise migrant work places or outright saying “migrants drive down wages”.
As we know, this isn’t true. A wave of campaigns have started and won which were organised by migrant workers; LSE cleaners, SOAS staff, Uber drivers, tube cleaners and now UoL. What these disputes and wins show is that unlike what the big trade union bureaucrats say, migrant workers aren’t “unorganisable” and don’t drive down wages. Rather it’s the fault of the top-down, soft trade unions that fail migrant workers and the wider movement as a whole by failing to be activist, fighting unions.
Trade unions and the Labour Party need to recognise that our class will not win if we continue to ignore migrant workers. At the end of the day, migrants are leading our struggle and doing the work overpaid bureaucrats should be doing. It’s bosses driving down wages, with bad unions and bureaucrats not organising to stop it.
Let’s building a militant, fighting movement that organises based on class, not nationality, and push the UoL struggle forward and build others like it.