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Cleaners at the flag ship John Lewis store on Oxford Street have won a fantastic victory against job cuts and low pay. The management have now agreed to withdraw, totally, plans for mass compulsory redundancy, and to give cleaners 10% pay rise, backdated to March – following a strike by staff who had organised themselves within the IWW.
Back in late July I went down to the John Lewis store to support the strike. I must confess that I was initially unsure as to whether the workers could win: at this point only a section of cleaning staff were actually organised in the union. What impressed though was the militancy and sheer presence of the picket line. Everybody who went in – whether they were colleagues, bosses, or delivery drivers - was compelled to properly engage with the fact that their was a strike on. Meanwhile a very deliberate effort. was made to inform the shopping public of the dispute – both at the flagship store and at John Lewis’ sister store Peter Jones. (At one point the police were called to prevent a few of us leafletting outside the latter. To their credit, the police seemed rather amused that they had been called down and explained to the manager that it was not within their remit to stop people giving out leaflets).
It is of some significance that these Cleaners were outsourced, rather than being direct employees of the firm. It is typical, in such situations, for businesses like John Lewis to plead impotence, and claim that the dispute can only be settled between the workers and the contractor. This dispute has shown what rubbish some claims are. This victory was won, in part, because John Lewis themselves did not want it happening in their shop front. Indeed, on the day of the strike a senior member of the partnership – in an attempt to illustrate his good intent – showed us an email sent from John Lewis to their outsourcer, urging them to resolve the dispute quickly and satisfactorily.
This dispute really does represent an important example to us all in these otherwise grim times. ”First 50% of cleaners hours were to be cut, then nearly a third of the work-force were to be made redundant, now after a courageous struggle not a single cleaner at John Lewis Oxford street will be forced to loose their job”. said Chris Ford an IWW organiser. “In an age of austerity this is no small achievement”.
my interview with a striking cleaner, name withheld.
To contact Reuben email firstname.lastname@example.org