UCL struck by protest and strike to end outsourcing

Early this morning (November 19), a mass of outsourced workers, students and allies gathered at UCL to mark the biggest strike of outsourced workers in UK education history.

Outsourced workers, which includes cleaners, porters and security workers conducted protests at 4am and ending around 1pm. The campaign, which was organised by the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB), is demanding better terms of employment for the workers and an end to outsourcing.

The chair of IWGB’s University of London branch, Maritza Castillo Calle, issued a statement saying:

“They are overworked, underpaid and mistreated, while UCL is happy to look the other way when issues are raised about the abject failure of its contractors to treat people with basic dignity. We gave UCL deadline by which to present a plan to end outsourcing which it failed to abide by. Now we are left with no option but to strike.”

UCL currently outsources through Axis, a security contracting company, and Sodexo, a cleaning contracting company. However, workers say that the companies come and go with little change. Terms of employment are far worse for outsourced workers, according to the IWGB website.

Lamin, who has been an outsourced worker at UCL for 10 years, said:

“They use the companies to save some money… we don’t get sick pay, we don’t get enough holidays and we need a pay raise as well. That’s why we are out today to strike, to make our voices heard, that we need in-house, equal pay and equality. Companies keep coming and going, but we are not in-house, we are out!”

Photography Credit: Guy Fiennes

Martin Newman is a member of academic staff with UCL in the Institute of Education. He’s also part of the UCU (University and College Union), which is soon to run its own strikes protesting the worsening pay and terms of employment for teaching staff.

“We’re going to join the protest,” he said, “because the UCU which I’m a member and an activist of are fully in support of the campaign to end outsourced working. We stand in solidarity with our comrades on their protest, because outsourced working is a stain on the university and UCL should act to bring these workers in house now.”  

Members of the UCU standing outside the IOE in solidarity with outsourced workers.
Photography Credit: Guy Fiennes

Sean Warmington is a student at SEES (School of Eastern European Studies) who has been helping with this most recent campaign.

 “It’s great to see so many people, it’s great to see how all of our actions leading up to it has built into something so beautiful and so powerful. All the security guards and the cleaners have been here since very early morning, I mean, it’s a strike day, they could’ve just stayed at home, just had a lie in,  but they came here and they showed such energy, banging on drums since four or five in the morning until [1pm]… the energy has been incredible.”

Photography Credit: Guy Fiennes

The protest began so early because that’s when many of the outsourced workers usually start work, but a number of students I spoke to were also present in solidarity well before dawn.

Joseph, who recently graduated and now volunteers with the Union, said: “It’s incredible to see so much hard work turn into what is a historic strike. And it will probably apply pressure to win the campaign.”

“The workers who are at the bottom of the ladder in universities and across wider society are those from black and ethnic minority backgrounds, the racialized working class. It’s great to see, in a context where migrant workers are blamed for pushing down wages and so on, to actually see that no – they’re to a large extent the people who are pushing back the most, pushing conditions up and inspiring people as well across the country.”

For students and others who would like to contribute to the strike effort, he said:

“There’s a great student campaign called UCL Justice for Workers which does a variety of things like breakfast stalls weekly where they meet and talk with workers give them coffee and tea. They can do language exchange with workers, they can help out on the picket lines, they can do stuff on social media boosting the campaign and spreading the word amongst other students, there’s a whole range of things they can do. I’d really encourage them to get involved because it’s a really important struggle and you meet some of the best people.”

Photography Credit: Guy Fiennes

There’s also a strike fund which you can donate to online.

At the end of the day the protest reconvened in front of the UCL gates on Malet Street with chants of “UCL, SHAME ON YOU”.

The general secretary of the IWGB, Jason Moyer-Lee, made a final speech in which he announced a new strike, which will take place on the 4th of December. He said: “I think we’ve sent a very strong message to UCL. They tried to intimidate us… and none of it worked.”

“Now is the time to not step back, now is the time to escalate. This is not a one-off, this is not the culmination of the campaign… this is just the beginning.”

Below is a short film by young director and film student Fernando Mitjáns about the lives of outsourced workers at UCL and SOAS and the campaigns to end outsourcing.

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