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London Says: Low Pay, No Way!

Strike and demonstrations against low pay take place in Central London.

Alejandra Ríos

August 4, 2017
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Three strikes over low pay and unlivable wages assembled came together in London for a joint demonstration. The Barts Health Trust strike, the Bank of England strike and the British Airways cabin crew strikers staged a series of protests on Thursday, publicising their separate campaigns unified around the demand for better wages.

The protest started at 8:00am (local time) on Thursday when hundreds of striking workers at four London hospitals staged a protest outside the offices of financial giant JP Morgan at a SERCO shareholders’ meeting, as it presented its half-year financial results for 2017 to investors. Cleaners, porters, catering, domestic and security staff, employed by Serco earn between £9.75 and £10.80 per hour, and are demanding a 30p wage increase to keep pace with the increasing costs of living in the capital.

The workers at Barts Health NHS Trust which is comprised of Whipps Cross University Hospital, the Royal London, St Bartholomew’s Hospital and Mile End Hospital, are amid a 14-day strike which started on July 25 and plan further industrial action in the coming weeks in protest at in protest at below inflation wage increases. They have been staging protests for nearly a month. At the weekend the workforce, predominantly women, danced while chanting “No racism in the NHS”, “Slippery Serco”, “We’re cleaners, not dirt” and “Low pay, no way”. The women engaged in industrial action are among the lowest-paid workers in London and they are confronting one of the country’s wealthiest corporations. A high proportion of the women on strike are black and immigrant workers from east and west Africa, who have been working at the hospital for nine years. Their salaries are so low that they need to work two-shifts of eight hours each in different hospitals to make ends meet.

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The demonstration marched to the Civil Aviation Authority for 11am, to protest British Airways (BA) treatment of its staff. The workers made placards rebranding the company “Brutish Airways” because of the way in which they have been treated. BA has been operating under an agreement that has seen Qatar Airways crew provide strike cover to the UK national carrier. To put it simply, BA is using workers from other companies to break the strike. BA cabin crew are in the middle of a long-running dispute over pay and staff sanctions. Crew in the lower-paid mixed fleet, working out of Heathrow on long and short-haul flights will extend the strike to cover the period from August 16th to August 30th. While the salary of executive members has risen by 18% the crew who joined the since 2010 are on “poverty” pay rates of just £12,194 a year. They are in a low-pay emergency and need to take up a second job or resort to food banks because of the insufficient level of their salaries.

A union rep has said that BA is blacklisting workers for taking lawful industrial action and urged the company “to start treating our members fairly and drop the bullying tactics to avoid the escalating cost and disruption that continued industrial and legal action brings.”

Unite, Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with over 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy, said the strike action would go ahead unless a deal was reached with BA on wages and on the sanctioning of striking workers.

The final demonstration was held at the Bank of England at 1:00 pm. There, workers held a protest in support of the maintenance and security staff on the final day of a three-day walkout over the imposition of a below inflation pay rise, a derisory proposal according to the workers.

What do these three struggles have in common? They reflect the high price of outsourcing: the plight of workers facing depressed wages across various work sectors. It is not difficult to compare the determination of the hospital cleaners with the lionesses of PepsiCo– they are facing millionaire corporations that do not blink an eye when they need to defend their profits and do not hesitate to leave families on the street orforcing them to work 16 hours a day. This largely invisible workforce is overworked, tired, and suffering from work-related injuries, obliged to have two jobs just to eat. This is the legacy of privatisation and the only future that capitalism can provide for workers.

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