Cleaners strike at Oxford Street John Lewis store for living wage
Striking cleaners at John Lewis in Oxford St, picketed demanding to be paid a living wage and to be treated as 'partners' like other workers there; their supporters briefly occupied and protested in the store, leaving peacefully after 10 minutes.
Cleaners today went on strike at the flagship John Lewis store on Oxford St, the first strike in the history of the John Lewis Partnership. Ironically it was the last strike at the company in 1920 that led to the reorganisation of the company as a partnership, while one of the issues at stake in the current dispute is the refusal of the company to accept its cleaners, vital for the running of the store as partners.
Cleaners picketed outside from 5.30am, and were joined by supporters including branch representatives and other trade unionists from the PCS, UCU, Unite and RMT for a rally in solidarity at lunchtime. The John Lewis cleaners have wide-ranging support, and so far 21 MPs, mainly Labour, have signed a Parliamentary Early Day Motion 301 put forward by John McDonnell in support of their claims. The cleaners have also received support from some of the partners who work in the store who wonder why the cleaners, whose work is essential for the running of the store, have not been brought into the partnership.
The strike followed the failure of talks that have gone on some years without progress between the London Citizens campaign and John Lewis to bring the cleaners into the partnership and to pay them the London Living Wage, currently £8.30ph. Currently they are paid on the minimum wage, and the strike was precipitated when Integrated Cleaning Management (ICM), the company who employ them on behalf of John Lewis, announced there would be a 50% cut in jobs and hours to clean the store, and refused to pay the living wage. ICM also refuse to recognise the IWW, officially recognised as a trade union in the UK in 2006, for collective bargaining, although almost all the cleaners now belong to it. Today's strike was supported by 90% of the cleaners in a ballot with an 80% turnout, and the IWW has made it clear that further strikes will follow in July and August unless ICM are prepared to meet their demands.
Chris Ford, the IWW regional secretary stated:
"John Lewis needs to take responsibility for those who work in their store and stop behaving like Pontius Pilate washing their hands of the situation. We have had an overwhelming call from our members for action. It is unfair to expect cleaners at the flagship store to accept less staff, more work and live on even less than the poverty wages they currently earn. This is not a model for the economy it is a moral outrage"
The rally outside the main entrance of John Lewis on Oxford St heard speeches of support from a number of trade unionists, including Steve Hedley of the London Region RMT as well as IWW cleaners' branch secretary Alberto Durango.
After the rally on the pavement had been going for around 40 minutes, a group of the supporters walked into the John Lewis store and held a short rally in the entrance. A few John Lewis employees tried to remonstrate with them briefly as they walked in with posters and IWW flags, but then withdrew to stand in a line between the protesters and the rest of the shop. After around 5 minutes a PCSO arrived and talked to them. Several of the protesters spoke on megaphones inside the store, telling the shop workers and customers, many of whom clustered around the balconies above, why the cleaners were striking and calling on John Lewis to pay its cleaners a decent wage and give them proper working rights and conditions.
A few minutes later the protesters made their way out of the store, to be greeted by cheers from the picketing cleaners who had stayed outside on the pavement. Around ten minutes later a few police officers arrived. One of them had a brief word with IWW regional secretary Chris Ford, and three officers then formed a line in front of the doorway into the store. The rally by now was coming to an end, and Durango thanked everyone for coming and giving their support, and the striking cleaners for their action, reminding us all that there would be another protest outside the store tomorrow, and that the cleaners would be back again striking and protesting until they were fairly treated.
The London Living Wage was established by the Greater London Authority and is reviewed by them annually. It was supported by all the major candidates in the mayoral election with Boris Johnson promising he would more than double the number of companies paying it during his term of office. David Cameron has called the living wage "an idea whose time has come." At £8.30 an hour it is still a low rate of pay, with small flats in the cheaper areas of London now costing well over £1000 per month.
ICM is part of the Compass Group, and the IWW point out this had pre-tax profits £581 million in the last year and paid its chairman Sir Roy Gardner £477,000 pa. They also state that Gardner is a major donor to Conservative Party funds, and gave £50,000 to Cameron's election campaign.