Monday, June 15, 2009

SOAS: Immigration police used to enforce exploitation

STUDENTS at London's Schoool of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) might be expected to be debating events in Iran this morning, but right now (8.30 am) they are demonstrating together with trade unionists against an attack on freedom right on their doorstep.

SOAS is one of the places in London where low-paid cleaners, many of them immigrants from poor and oppressed countries, have been organised by trade unions to fight for decent treatment and a living wage. With backing from students and some of the academic staff the cleaners at SOAS gained the London Living Wage, but then Unison branch chairman Stalin Bermudez, who comes from Ecuador, was sacked in what supporters say was outright victimisation. His dismissl came as students were nominating him honorary president of their union.

But that was not all.

Like many of the low-paid workers who service one of the world's richest cities, the SOAS cleaners are not employed directly in-house by the institution where they work, but through a contractor.
At 6.30am on Friday, June 12, ISS, the outsourced cleaning company hired by SOAS, called a staff meeting for all SOAS cleaners. Within minutes the meeting was raided by approximately 40 immigration police, who detained all cleaners and arrested nine people accused of working without proper documentation.

These nine people are now on fast-track to be deported from the UK.

This looks suspiciously like a familiar pattern seen in Britain and other wealthy countries which exploit migrant labour. Workers who are desperate to earn a living are taken on, and firms turn a blind eye to their immigrant status and documentation, so long as they are cheap. Respectable institutions like SOAS, or Transport for London, or the big City banks with their bonuses for fat cats, outsource the work, so long as it is cheap, and say how the workers are treated is nothing to do with them. But with London rents and prices the workers find they are not earning enough to live, and they also start asking for decent conditions at work.

They start to organise, and take strike action if they can.

It is at that point that management finds reasons to get rid of those they consider ringleaders, and if that is not enough, they discover irregularities with people's immigration papers. As if by coincidence the police come in.
Elsewhere the threat of a police raid is used to intimidate workers into keeping their heads down and mouths shut.

Here's a report in the Morning Star:
The School of Oriental and African Studies in London has been accused of using immigration raids to intimidate and break unions after nine foreign workers were snatched in a dawn raid. Without any advance warning from their bosses nor the university management, SOAS cleaning staff were swooped on by a snatch squad of immigration officers at 6.30am on Friday.
Fearful cleaners were detained on SOAS premises as the officers demanded to see their papers. Some were taken into rooms of the university to be interrogated. A witness said that a member of the public had to step in when a heavily pregnant cleaner was manhandled by officers.

In all nine cleaners, the majority believed to be Ecuadorian and Colombian, were taken away by officers from the UK Borders Agency and may now face deportation. SOAS UCU branch chair Graham Dyer said: "It is no coincidence that there is an immigration raid at a time when the UCU, UNISON and the NUS are fighting against the victimisation of a migrant worker who has been at the heart of a fight that has improved the pay and conditions of workers here at SOAS.

"Our fight has united lecturers, staff and students and has rocked SOAS management. It is a disgrace that SOAS management saw fit to use a seat of learning to intimidate migrant workers. The living-wage campaign has had the support of John McDonnell MP, who said: "As living-wage campaigns are building in strength, we are increasingly seeing the use of immigration statuses to attack workers fighting against poverty wages and break trade union organising.

"The message is that they are happy to employ migrant labour on poverty wages, but if you complain they will send you back home. It is absolutely shameful."

University under fire for raid

Sunday 14 June 2009
by Paddy McGuffin.

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