Disabled score at Arsenal, and Cleaners Give Award
AWARD FOR MERCHANT BANKERS, BUT SMILES AT ARSENAL STADIUM
FOLLOWING up on a couple things from before Xmas... The TGWU Record
dropped through my letterbox this week, and among other news it contains a report saying "Arsenal demo clinches victory for Remploy workers' new factory".
As reported last October, workers from the Remploy factory in Holloway, north London, which is due to close in March as part of the Arsenal development, marched to the new Emirates stadium at Ashburton Grove on Saturday afternoon, October 14, to draw attention to their fears for jobs if the factory was not replaced. Remploy, a public agency employing disabled but often highly skilled workers, had announced plans for several closures.
Arsenal were due to play Watford in the Barclays Premier League. The marchers' aim was to gain maximum publicity as well as support from local people and soccer fans.
Arsenal won 3-0. The disabled workers' demonstration obtained wide press coverage, and according to TGWU national secretary Jennie Formby: "there was also a huge amount of support from the public, who contacted the company to make their feelings known, and this added to the pressure".
Remploy had been paid £1.4 million for the loss of its Holloway factory, but although this was originally supposed to buy a new factory, said it had already spent the money. Now apparently it has decided it can afford a new north London factory after all. Just as well that demonstration worked first time. It would have been a pity to have to embarass the Duke of Edinburgh with another demo, when he officially opened the new stadium on October 26.
The Queen had been due to perform the ceremony but had a back injury - another possible case for Remploy?
I'm wary of accepting official union claims of victories since the Gate Gourmet dispute. But according to Jennie Formby, Remploy has agreed to buy a new factory and ensure there are no redundancies. "There will not even be voluntary redundancies, as we made it clear jobs were not for sale but being held in trust for future generations of disabled workers".
Nevertheless, having won this one, the union knows it still has a struggle on. While claiming to "help" disabled workers - by threatening their benefits if they don't look hard enough for jobs, rather than putting more pressure on employers to engage them, -the Blair government has also been taking contracts and resources away from sheltered workplaces such as Remploy.
The fight is on to defend another 82 Remploy factories around the country.
THE other big fight reported in the Record is that of cleaners in the City, who are scraping along on poverty wages while the firms whose offices they clean make huge profits, and pay enormous salaries and bonuses to executive types. The contractors are also taking more than their share, being big firms or subsidiaries of even bigger companies.
The average salary in the City these days is £100,000 a year, and bonuses are expected to reach £8.8 billion. Cleaners, on the other hand, typically get no sick pay nor pensions, no more than the legal munimum holiday, and earn as little as £5.35 an hour. Many have to do two jobs. Then travel on overcrowded and ever-more expensive public transport to see to their own homes, and kids.
Soaring house prices and interest rates have made it harder for ordinary working people, even in supposedly valued professions, to live in London. But somebody has to help boost those profits and fat cat bonuses. Then we're told that wages are the cause of inflation, and the Bank must raise interest rates to stop us spending more. At least they waited till after the Christmas shopping sprees, ("High Street confidence"), and January sales.
Anyway, as part of their campaign for better pay and conditions some cleaning trades unionists held a hunger strike outside the Royal Bank of Scotland(RBS) London offices before Christmas.
The TGWU Record says RBS, Merril Lynch and Goldman Sachs have been presented with the Golden Vacuum award, for "sucking their cleaners dry".
Workers occupied the plush foyer of Goldman Sachs' London headquarters, forcing traders and big money clients to clamber around sit-down cleaners chanting slogans, while outside other cleaners kept up the protest and made sure passing shoppers and City workers got the message "Goldman sucks".
The cleaners' target was ISS, which is one of the world's biggest cleaning companies, demanding it recognise the union and pay a living wage. And if it seems a bit indirect to take their action against the New York-headquartered merchant bankers, it is not. Because ISS is owned by Goldman Sachs.