Sotheby’s noise protest – cleaners’ reinstatement campaign – Sat 15th Aug 2015

Up to 100 people attended the latest event on Saturday afternoon in a six-week campaign targeting London high-end auction house Sotheby’s, over their sacking of cleaners engaged in Union activities.

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After a short sit-down outside Sotheby’s, blocking New Bond Street for a few minutes, the protest took a couple of trips round the block, visiting the other entrance to the auction house. It was a peaceful, good-natured and loud affair, with drummers, sirens, whistles and megaphones creating a cacophony in the posh Mayfair streets.

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Letters were handed to local businesses explaining the nature and purpose of the protest and apologising for any inconvenience.

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United Voices of the World were supported by Class War, Disabled People Against the Cuts, PCS union, and Unite.

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The carnival atmosphere was contrasted by humourless policing. Sergeant Hamatt physically prevented one of the protesters from entering a local shop to hand over one of their letters, though seemed hard-pressed to offer any lawful reason, then hassled a photographer for taking a photo of him writing in his log book (citing spurious Data Protection grounds, when in fact it was probably him breaching data laws if he was waving around sensitive information in public near press photographers).

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A vanload of police reinforcements arrived, and engaged in some pushing, but the protesters just changed direction occasionally and kept up their spirits and resolve.

15th august 2015 protest by united voices at sotheby's auction house calling for reinstatement of cleaners sacked while fighting for sick pay

15th august 2015 protest by united voices at sotheby's auction house calling for reinstatement of cleaners sacked while fighting for sick pay

The campaign began on July 1st when 4 cleaners were ‘suspended’ by Sotheby’s after taking part in a protest calling for better conditions including sick pay for the precarious cleaning and portering staff. The campaign has had some success with a massive petition, and an Early Day Motion signed by 19 MPs in parliament, leading to the reinstatement of two of the workers.

So the fight continues to get the other two, Percy Yunganina and Barbara Rocha, back into work.

United Voices of the World is a new grassroots and volunteer-staffed union representing precarious workers in London’s service sectors, and it is growing rapidly. This seemed to have triggered the interest of the authorities, who of course prefer either non-unionised labour, or unions led by fat cats with whom they can do business.

So the United Voices protests at Sotheby’s, seemingly a small industrial spat, has attracted some interesting policing, with visits by senior observers from the National Domestic Extremist Unit and other intelligence officers. Perhaps they are concerned that sometimes from small acorns…

Organising from the grassroots up is a very potent catalyst for change. If you’re not aware of recent Spanish developments, I’d recommend a look at this excellent short docu from the esteemed Reel News crew.

For more info on future Sotheby’s actions, check out United Voices of the World facebook page.