Sothebys cleaners campaign

Thurs July 16th UPDATE

A similar sized crowd arrived on Thursday evening to protest outside Sotheby’s during a staff dinner. Because the New Bond Street entrance was closed, they walked round the block a couple of times,

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but police then pushed the peaceful protesters into a pen, opposite the closed New Bond Street doors, while dinner guests used the other entrance in St George Street.

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The crowd broke away from their pen and went walking again.

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Prevented from entering St George Street, the group went up Regent Street `

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and ended up at the BBC building, hoping for some publicity. Police didn’t follow, but remained at St George Street where they conferred with Sotheby’s staff.

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Four Sotheby’s cleaners were suspended last week, the day after holding a protest outside the Bond Street auction house over sick pay and wages.

Although Sotheby’s undertook to sign up as a Living Wage employer earlier this year, the multinational auction house (which sold £130 million worth of paintings on the night of that first protest), have said they will not be raising cleaners’ pay in line with the Living Wage in November. They also refuse to negotiate over introducing contractual sick pay, so anyone sick or injured faces having to carry on working in order to pay ever-spiralling London rents.

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Migrant workers in London’s service industries have formed a new independent grassroots trade union, United Voices of the World, and had won the partial but significant victory at Sotheby’s earlier in the year. But that victory has been undermined by management intransigence, and now by the unfair dismissal of four cleaners over the hotly contested claim that they intimidated guests and cost the company business at the protest on the 1st July.

So on Wednesday this week, the UVW called for support for a noise protest at Sotheby’s public auction (where works from the Earls of Carlisle collections, and Napoleon’s Pistols from the Roi de Rome were on offer).

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The protest was announced on Facebook and attracted support from various other groups including a small contingent from Class War armed with water pistols. At the height of the protest, there were up to a hundred protesters, sporting a loud array of drums, megaphones, whistles, and sirens.

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Soon after the event began, riot police forced the protesters away from the entrance and across the road. Riot vans were parked nose to tail to obscure the auction house from view, and obscure the protest from the auction house, but I think the Sotheby’s management thought the whole spectacle might look a little too oppressive for their wealthy clients, and the vans were repositioned to create a gap.

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The pavement 100 yards in each direction from the building became a “sterile area”, and in each direction, a team of three TSG officers forced ordinary members of the public to cross the road and negotiate their way through the protest, only allowing the hallowed upper classes to use the public pavement to access the auctioneers, accompanying them along the route before handing them over to the caring white-gloved hands of the Sotheby’s own private security men in their black suits.

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Meanwhile, the loud, colourful, and good-natured protest banged on through the evening, watched by police from the Domestic Extremist Unit and videoed by a FIT team as well as a specialist petapixel camera on an unmarked green van.

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That a peaceful trade union protest over wages, sick pay, and unfair dismissal should attract so much policing and be classed as potential extremism is a sad and sinister indictment of the times we live in.

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There’s a petition you might want to sign, and UVW have a facebook page if you’re interested.

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