Cleaners who work in the City of London offices of the giant international bank UBS [Union Banque Suisse] are finding their terms and conditions coming under attack as they are transferred from one cleaning contractor, Mitie to another, Lancaster.
This is a fuller version of the interview than in the printed paper.
This largely migrant workforce are organising to protect their rights. The employer has sacked one of the leading union activists among the cleaners, Alberto Durango. They are attempting to convince the remaining workers to accept the new contracts. But in addition to this, the Unite official responsible for the UBS cleaners is encouraging cleaners to accept the changed conditions, and is conducting a bureaucratic vendetta against Alberto, denying him legal representation. Alberto spoke to Solidarity.
How is the campaign going?
Inside UBS the situation changes daily. We have daily intimidation from bosses, who are trying to break workers' resistance to the changed conditions. Union bureaucrats are playing games and trying to convnice the cleaners to accept the conditions. Some workers are coming under a lot of pressure to accept the new conditions. They are trying to get some workers to convince other workers, but they are refusing to co-operate. It is a contradictory game: we have to fight the bosses but we also have to push the union.
On the other hand, we are clearly having an effect. Cleaners at other UBS sites are starting to organise too, to demand better conditions and increased salary, as a result of the campaign at Liverpool Street. We are trying to find out more about the workers on Lancaster contracts on other sites and bring them into the campaign.
Night shift workers have been put on part time contracts to do the same work - and all workers have had their break entitlements cut. They want to change the full time people to 7 hours from 8 and the part time people to 3 hours.
What is the greatest difficulty you are facing?
The role of Unite has made it very difficult to organise workers. I think the union is acting here like agents of the companies and that is confusing workers. You shouldn't have to be fighting the union as well as the bosses.
At the moment there are elections in Unite and we are trying to improve our branch. I think it is important also to build an organisation where cleaners from all sectors can organise together. I get the feeling from other cleaners I have been talking to that there would be a lot of potential for that. We need to find a place for workers to come together but without a bureaucratic structure. I think we need a cross-sector organisation - we have cleaners from universities who feel betrayed by Unison, and other cleaners from the private sector who feel betrayed by Unite. I'm not talking about a separate union, but we need to address the common problem we have with the union.
What is happening in UBS is a reflection of what is happening in a lot of buildings around the City of London. Unite claim they have built a good branch, but in reality they have only taught workers how to keep their heads down. We need a good programme of education for the workers on the different sites.
How can the rest of the labour movement help?
We want solidarity. Not just words and feeling sorry for us, but practical solidarity. We want support on the picket lines, and that's how the labour movement should behave in every struggle.
Join the demonstration in support of the UBS cleaners - 5pm, Friday 19 March, 100 Liverpool Street
An edited version of this interview will appear in Solidarity 3/169.