Tuesday 10 November: Henry Chango Lopez, who joined the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB) as an outsourced worker in 2013, was elected General Secretary by a landslide at the union’s Annual General Meeting on Saturday 7 November.
Mr. Lopez, originally from Ecuador, has lived in the UK for twenty years. He began advocating for his fellow workers in his first job as an outsourced cleaner at the University of London and went on to unionise the majority of workers there. His election follows less than a week after a major victory for the union, which last week won a 10 year battle to end outsourcing at the University of London where Mr. Lopez once worked as a cleaner and campaigned for equality and better conditions for all outsourced workers.
Henry Chango Lopez, newly elected General Secretary of the IWGB, says: “I have the experience of being in the union since the beginning, when we had about 300 members and no office. I used to work as a cleaner and porter at the University of London. Before I joined a union I didn’t know anything about unions and I was an exploited worker so I am very proud of what we have achieved.
Working closely with branches and officials, my focus will be workplace organising, fighting outsourcing, developing new leaders and building capacity. The IWGB will continue to be a light at the end of the tunnel for so many exploited workers. There are lots of people out there who see this union as a beacon of hope”.
Dr. Jason Moyer-Lee, outgoing General Secretary of the IWGB, says: “We should all be proud that our union believes that a migrant worker, who came to this country barely speaking English and got involved in unions as an outsourced cleaner earning less than the living wage, is the best person to be our leader. I have every confidence that Henry will do great things in this next phase of the IWGB’s history and I look forward to supporting him in those efforts.
The IWGB is a fighting force to be reckoned with and has redefined what is possible in the trade union movement. We have organised the workers they said were ‘unorganisable’ and built power they said we would never have. I have never been prouder of this union”.
The IWGB specialises in representing sections of the workforce which have traditionally been non-unionised and under-represented. These are mainly low-paid migrant workers, outsourced security guards, porters and cleaners as Mr. Lopez once was, as well as workers in the so-called ‘gig economy’, such as bicycle couriers and Uber drivers. These being workers traditionally classified as ‘unskilled’ but designated as ‘key workers’ by the government with the onset of Covid-19, the union’s profile has grown markedly over the course of the pandemic. The union is currently waiting to learn the outcome of a Judicial Review it brought against the Government which if won, could force it to extend health and safety rights to hundreds of thousands of ‘gig economy’ and frontline workers.
At any time, the election of a migrant worker to the most senior leadership position of a major trade union would be significant. In the context of Covid-19 and the UK’s racial justice movement gathering momentum and research by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) confirming that BAME workers have shouldered disproportionate risk during the pandemic, Mr. Lopez’s election is historic.
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Notes for editors
Founded in August of 2012, the IWGB now consists of eleven branches. The branches are highly autonomous and lead on campaigning for better pay and conditions. IWGB campaigns are known for being bold, vibrant, loud and effective. From salsa dancing on the picket lines at the University of London to flash occupations of the Tate Modern, public pressure campaigns are the main method used to improve our members’ working lives.
In addition to campaign the IWGB’s Legal Department is also highly active, providing representation on a range of employment matters such as disciplinary processes, grievances, private hire licensing, and employment tribunals. The union’s legal department has also been at the forefront of test case litigation establishing private hire drivers and couriers as limb (b) workers, entitling them to a range of employment rights denied to them by their employers.
Newly elected office-holders:
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