Yesterday afternoon saw the launch of a new campaign by the grassroots union, United Voices of the World, which represents key workers in London’s outsourced economy – the porters, cleaners, shop assistants, security guards and so on – jobs characterised by precarious contracts and low pay.
The UVW union has no paid officials and runs on goodwill, solidarity and small subscriptions. It represents mainly Latin American migrant workers, but is open and welcoming to all. For such a shoestring enterprise it has an astonishingly successful track record in defending workers at numerous Employment Tribunal cases, winning its members tens of thousands of pounds in settlements and also gaining living wage agreements for hundreds of workers in just a few short years.
Its biggest victory has been a historic agreement for sub-contracted staff (security and cleaners) at the world-renowned Sotheby’s auction house in Mayfair. After UVW’s series of boisterous and embarrassing protests during public auctions, an agreement has been reached committing Servest (the company contracted to provide services to Sotheby’s) to not only pay the London Living Wage, but also to offer Occupational Sick Pay, the first time outsourced private sector employees have been offered anything more than the far smaller Statutory Sick Pay. (my Sotheby’s reports and pics 1 2
So, UVW have now turned their attention to London High Street retailers, beginning at TopShop with a 100-strong protest at their flagship Oxford Circus store yesterday afternoon. This will be the first living wage campaign targeted at a fashion retailer in the UK.
With drums, horns, cowbells, a megaphone and loud chanting, the crowd drew much attention from passers-by and shoppers.
After some short speeches from Union organisers and TopShop cleaners, a good-natured attempt to enter the store was repelled by security staff, and then a line of police helped block the main entrance.
The drumming and chanting created a carnival atmosphere in the Spring-like sunshine, and at times the road was filled with interested onlookers. Volunteers handed out hundreds of leaflets highlighting the disparity between the massive profits reported by Philip Green’s Arcadia Group (registered under his wife’s name in a Monaco tax haven), and the poverty-inducing wages paid to staff (expected to rise in line with minimum wage to £7.20 per hour from April).
The campaign is pushing for a London Living Wage of £9.40 per hour (based on scientific methodology and the true cost of living). This is not to be confused with George Osborne’s promise of a ‘living wage’ by 2020, which is actually merely a rebranding of the minimum wage and is not related to the cost of living.
Many of the workers are actually sub-contracted and work for Brittania Services Group, but despite TopShop’s own Code of Conduct claiming to subscribe to the concept of the “living wage”, the retailer has not taken any action to promote this “concept” for its staff.
After a couple of hours, the protest went on a walkabout, briefly blocking Oxford Circus before visiting and briefly invading John Lewis.
Despite a campaign involving comedian/activist Mark Thomas a couple of years ago, this supposedly ethical store still sub-contracts its cleaners at rates impossible to live on in the capital.
The UVW is planning to target the Science Museum and the Daily Mail in a series of further actions this year.
They have launched this petition relating to TopShop.