On 4 July 2013, workers, their family and supporters, and speakers, converged on the steps of SOAS to demand pay and conditions for cleaners equal to that of other staff in SOAS. We heard from representatives of the student body in support of the campaign, from both ULU and SOAS, and especially from the workers themselves, some clutching family members, about the exploitation they were having to endure under the outsourcing regime (previous posting). Below I reproduce an open letter from Lenin Escudero – which powerfully articulates the injustice of their situation and the measure of their resolve. SOAS solidarity will prevail!
Letter from Lenin Escudero:
“Most of the SOAS cleaners come from South American, countries where their rulers exploit their people, even allows European countries and USA do the same with our people and our wealth natural land resources, leaving us without economic recourses and no job opportunities because of this, we are forced to migrate in search of respect and job opportunities in other countries… in the world like the United Kingdom.
Many of us decided to come to the UK, which is a well known country around the world characterized as a country that respects human rights and gives equal opportunities to their people.
Latin Immigrants in the UK perform cleaning work, because we cannot work in another field, because of the barrier of the language, as we do not speak English.
Many of us had the opportunity to get jobs in this prestigious University called SOAS, where we are working, and where we are leaving part of our lifes.
Our first days at work were very hard because we did not understand the language, culture, customs etc, but, despite those barriers we coped with the work, and our work has been of high quality.
We are leaving part of our life, due to the daily working we are performing to keep clean this University for its students and employees, to feel comfortable to study and do their jobs without any risk, but despite making an important job for this University, our work has never been recognized or respected, on the contrary we have been victim of victimization, exploitation and abuse from the cleaning companies that SOAS has contracted.
The cleaning companies at SOAS they only do is exploit, discriminate, victimize the cleaners and create unrest and discontent among the cleaners, but what most bothers and worries us is that SOAS is indirectly involved in the exploitation, discrimination and victimization and abuse that we suffer under the hands of the cleaning companies.
We wonder why SOAS treats us as second-class workers, and why we do not have the same benefits, which are enjoyed by the rest of the workers at this university, and knowing that we perform a very important and risky job that involved direct contact with chemicals that we are using daily to keep this university clean, and we also have risks of getting infected with diseases and bacteria from daily contact we have with the bathrooms, kitchens, classrooms, offices and communal areas that are used by many people daily leaving them dirty and contaminated.
During our time as cleaners, we have done our work with pleasure and pride and with great professionalism, we even have much affection and respect for workers of this University, even despite not having the same benefits or treated as a human being, we feel part of SOAS.
We wonder why the SOAS cleaners do not have equal rights, perhaps are we not human beings? Or do we not get sick? Or do we not have family (Fair holiday)? Or do we not think of the future of tomorrow (Pension)?.
We also wonder why a university where human rights and equality law is taught as theory, but in reality the opposite is practice, which is discriminate, exploit, and victimize their cleaners, by denying us the benefits that the rest of the workers at SOAS have.
We also wonder how this can happen in the UK, where is a country that fights for human rights and who walks around the world, trying to free people from their rulers or dictators where they do not respect human rights.
We do not understand how we can demand respect for human rights if, even in the UK itself is not practiced, even Universities as SOAS where students learn to be good professionals for the future, is not put into practice equal rights to all SOAS workers, what example can we give to the world and futures generations, if there is still discrimination, exploitation and victimization for denying equal rights to their cleaners and to let us in the hand of the cleaning companies who only aim is to get profit through the exploitation of their cleaners.
We think it is unfair that we had to work on many occasions being sick because we could not afford it to lose a day’s work, because we have families to feed, and we have not the benefit enjoyed by other SOAs workers.
We think it is unfair that when any of our family dies, we don’t have compassion leave paid, we have to take part of our vacation leave to be with our familiars at this time of sorrow.
We think it is unfair that we cannot share more time with our families, when the others SOAS workers rest and share with their families at the time of Easter and Christmas when the University is closed for all workers except for the cleaners, who have to come to work and clean walls, bathrooms, floors etc, We don’t think that is fair we also have families and we would like to share more time with our families as well.
SOAS GB do not realize that because of this unequal rights, are destroying our lives as individuals and as workers, because of the daily exploitation of labour and without any benefit in times needed as sick or vacation or pension, this is also affecting our families, because we cannot share much time with them, because we have to work long hours to live in this expensive city.
Our children are growing up without the love that could give them, given the short time that we share with them.
We would not like to see our children judge for having a parent as a cleaner, if they have to be judge it has to be by their character or attitudes, we would like to see our children feel proud of the work we perform.
We would like to see our children become great men and good professionals who can contribute to the field of development and improvement of the society we live which is in danger.
We would like to see our children fulfil their dreams, but with the bad treatment and activity that we have and the daily effort that we put in our work, where we are not offered the same rights and benefits and also we are not treated with justice and respect and dignity as other workers of this University and where our work is not recognized, because of all this, our strength is being depleted.
SOAS GB , we are calling your awareness, let us enjoy the rights and benefits we deserve, no more discrimination, no more exploitation, no more victimization, recognize that you have failed, because only for saving money you have put at risk your cleaners.
Your attitude not only is affecting our life, it is also affecting the life of our families.
SOAS is time to change, the cleaners demand and rise in protest for our rights and justice and we will continue up until our demands and rights are taken into account.
Not only the bread and water human beings needs to live, in order to live also human beings need respect, justice , rights, equality and the more important is dignity something that soas cleaners don’t have it at the moment.
SOAS bring us back in house now.”