Micheil Page, BA Development Studies and Geography
Of all the campaigns at SOAS, the Justice for Cleaners campaign is one of the most dedicated and well-known. Many of us at SOAS possibly cannot remember a day where we haven’t seen a poster for the campaign around the Student’s Union, or someone wearing a badge in support of it. This is how entrenched the campaign has become at SOAS, and the current demand is for the cleaners to be brought in-house, at a time when the management are considering bids from companies looking to sign a contract with them.
On the 19th November, I attended a documentary screening hosted by the campaign in the JCR. The evening featured an exclusive Skype call with a similar campaign in South Africa, where not only cleaners but workers in security, transport and catering have been fighting at the University of Cape Town (UCT) to be brought in-house after being outsourced more than fifteen years ago. The workers’ struggle appears to be coming to a close, with the university considering to bring the outsourced workers in-house in December. The campaign is still ongoing, with a demand for a written agreement of this, but it’s proof that such consistent activism can have a real impact.
Following a brief talk by a student whose family in South Africa had felt the similar effects of being exploited and outsourced, the documentary was shown. Limpiadores (meaning ‘Cleaners’ in Spanish), is a documentary by Fernando González Mitjáns. It follows the history of the campaign and provides a brief glimpse into the daily routine of one of our own cleaners, Consuelo Moreno Yusti – a key figure in the campaign.
The documentary highlights the difficulties that many Latin Americans who travel to the UK experience, from struggling in a community at first to then having to take up jobs with very low pay so that they can provide for themselves and their family either in the UK or back home. Over time the campaign has grown in size and success, with a major gain being the assurance of sick leave and the London living wage (£7.20 an hour at the time, up from the previous rate of £5.70).
The film offers an amazing insight for those who have not personally spoken with the cleaners, especially with regards to a specific event several years ago. For the cleaners, the 12th of June is a very important date – when SOAS conspired with ISS to stage an immigration raid on the employees, leading to nine cleaners being deported, one of who was pregnant at the time. It was a deplorable act by SOAS and ISS, and one that will not be forgotten. The documentary also featured interviews with some of the deported cleaners, several of whom are at present back in their home countries.
In all honesty the documentary is one of the best I have ever seen, filled with a sincere sadness yet purity you could not find elsewhere. It touched my heart, and hopefully it will do the same to others who watch it. It’s a fitting tribute to those fighting for job equality, those deported over six years ago, and a perfect consideration of just how exploitative a process outsourcing really is.
La Lucha Continua