‘We’ll keep demanding our cleaners are brought in-house’

Shadia Edwards-Dashti, Msc International Politics

SOAS Justice for Cleaners (J4C) re-launched their campaign this year with a series of successful events over the past week.

Over 40 students mobilised outside SOAS yesterday, for a protest against the exploitation of the cleaners, urging the SOAS management to directly hire and bring the cleaners ‘in house’.

Speakers ranged from academic staff to union representatives and student activists. Amongst the chants – “Management out, cleaners in!” –  there was an array of dance and song uniting students and workers. Our message was directed to the Governing Body, the School’s highest decision-making body, that was meeting at 4pm to discuss various issues of which we urged the management to not only include the J4C Campaign on their agenda, but to make it a priority.

While the protest drew to a close outside, a group of 15 demonstrators took to the entrance of the room where the SOAS Governing Body, including Director Paul Webley and other executive members were greeted by drums, whistles, spoons, trays and chants demanding ‘justice for the cleaners’. Making our presence virtually impossible to ignore, a member of the governing body came out attempting to silence us.

Our demands were clear: we would leave when the Governing Body agreed to meet the cleaners and discuss the issue at hand. Declining our demands on the grounds that they would only meet with staff directly employed by SOAS or students, we continued to disrupt the quarterly meetings for the next hour, persistently getting louder and louder. Co-president Georgie Robertson, who was present in the meeting, confirmed that discussion over their agenda items was near impossible as they could barely hear one another.

After an hour of chanting we fell silent. About 3 minutes later, at approximately 5 pm, we decided to walk in, holding our placards and staging a silent protest.

The meeting, unable to continue, drew to a close around two hours ahead of schedule, when the chair announced, “due to unforeseen circumstances this meeting is adjourned.”

Our success yesterday is a launch pad for the campaign. When the Governing Body reschedules, we will be there and that will not be ‘unforeseen’. This is your warning.
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