Cleaners are protesting over bullying, race, sex and disability discrimination and victimisation of trade unionists by cleaning contractor MITIE. They held a noisy protest at their workplace, the Canary Wharf offices of law firm Clifford Chance.
Around 30 protesters from the independent general union ‘The Industrial Workers of Great Britain'(also known as the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain) met up and travelled together on the Jubilee Line to Canary Wharf station, where they were joined by a few others. There they got out their red IWGB flags and a couple of placards before marching quickly to the office tower occupied by leading law firm Clifford Chance next to the station. Although the cleaners in dispute work there, they are employed by cleaning contractor MITIE.
I was with the first group to arrive and went with them through the revolving doors before the building security guards had reacted and managed to stop some of the others. Inside the protesters simply shouted their slogans and made a lot of noise, being careful to cause no damage, and they left when asked politely after a few minutes.
The protest then continued on the pavement outside, attracting some attention from the workers rushing out of the other offices around to the Underground entrance. Soon some Canary Wharf Estate security men arrived, dressed to impersonate police, and stood in front of the two doorways. A few minutes later the Head of Security arrived, and attempted to talk to some of the protesters.
After a while the security men came and tried to push the protesters back, but they refused to move, telling them that they were not police and that they would be guilty of assault if they continued to try to remove them. There were loud protests when one of the security men hit a woman protester, but fortunately the security then backed off slightly. There were a few more scuffles as they tried to grab Alberto Durango, the cleaner’s leader.
The head of security on the large private Canary Wharf estate had come out to talk with the protesters and had a heated discussion with several of them including Durango. I think he was told that they would shortly end their protest and leave, and things then calmed down a little. There was a short final burst of protest and then Alberto outlined the problems that the cleaners were facing, with MITIE managers treating their workers with disrespect, and failing to answer the many and lengthy complaints made by the union, except by banning union representatives and victimising union activists.
The workers complain of bullying by management as well as against discrimination over race, sex and disability. They say that one cleaner was suspended for asking that a document he was told to sign to be translated so he could understand what he was signing, and the MITIE boss at Clifford Chance is said to have boasted of conducting research into the union rep who is not employed there. The IWGB has been pressing for a meeting with MITIE to discuss the dispute at Clifford Chance for a month (including at ACAS) and has not made any progress.