This article was published in the Morning Star on 22 June, 2017. 

ON JUNE 8 cleaners, who had been on strike at the London School of Economics (LSE) for seven weeks, in a dispute that has spanned 10 months, won. They won each of their demands.

The cleaners were members of the United Voices of the World (UVW) union, and took strike action one day a week at the LSE. These workers were on strike for paid paternity/maternity leave, holiday pay, and sick pay on the same terms as LSE workers. Their boss is the subcontractor Noonan Services Group — though their target was primarily the university.

The victory was decisive. From Spring 2018, the cleaners will be brought in-house and become direct employees of the university — from this the other demands will be satisfied. They will, like other university workers, receive 41 days of annual leave, six months of full sick pay, six months at half sick pay and also receive a full employer pension contributions of approximately 13 per cent of their salary.

The wave of neoliberal reforms in public institutions that swept across Britain from the 1980s often took the form of “outsourcing” — an Orwellian term that disguises a pernicious practice behind bland words. Private companies are “contracted” by universities, government departments and local authorities to employ cleaners, security officers, refuse collectors and, in some cases, to run entire public services and departments. These companies then drive down working conditions in order to increase their profits.

Many of the poorest workers in Britain are employed by these companies — often working on zero-hours contracts, living in poverty, holding down two or more jobs to survive.

The companies are familiar to us. Their names have become synonymous with corporate greed, such as Balfour and Beatty Workplace — which employs 50,000, operates in more than 80 countries, with a turnover of £64 billion — and Compass — which has a turnover of £2bn, and works in 7,000 different sites. These companies have been at the cutting edge of privatisations in Britain and internationally…

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