Cleaners at Topshop are sub-contracted to a company, Britannia Services Group, that made £1.34m profit after tax. Philip Green, worth nearly £5bn, runs the Arcadia Group that owns Topshop. Arcadia made more than £250m profit last year, but it is registered to Philip Green’s wife, who lives in the Monaco tax haven. Mr. Green recently bought a £100m yacht.
The cleaners pay all the tax due on their £6.75 per hour poverty wages, leaving them without enough money to cover London rent and food.
Despite a workplace culture of fear and intimidation, some cleaners have been campaigning and organising to raise awareness and push for a London Living Wage (http://www.livingwage.org.uk/what-living-wage). As a result of their lawful activities, two have been suspended and a third is under threat. Susana, an Ecuadorian single mother, has worked at Topshop for several years, and despite being bullied at work, shows great courage, along with Carolina and Luz, in standing up to the corporation.
They are all members of the grassroots union United Voices of the World (www.uvwunion.org.uk), which has had some notable successes despite running on a shoestring budget made up of small subscriptions and donations.
Today’s protest began at the Strand branch of Topshop, as the People’s Assembly march and rally drew to a close in nearby Trafalgar Square. The UVW received solidarity from Class War activists who unfurled a large banner in front of the doors to the Strand shop and later set off smoke bombs. UVW organiser, Petros Elia addressed the crowd.
Perhaps expecting major public disorder during the austerity protest, or perhaps buoyed by a new financial year, the demonstration was notable for the excessive policing, with several vans of riot police, two sets of evidence gatherers, and the attention of a Chief Inspector, all for a small industrial dispute with a few dozen protesters.
After a short speech from Susana, the decision was taken to march to the Oxford Circus flagship store, and there, as news spread, more people joined the protest swelling numbers to around a hundred or so, although the many bystanders and bemused shoppers soon blocked roads around the store.
Again, police resources seemed limitless, with at times, nearly as many officers as protesters. Ironic that most of the protesters pay tax, which covers police salaries and overtime, and yet the police were deployed to assist the private security of a huge corporation that aggressively avoids contributing to the UK tax system.
Police claimed that the demonstration (mainly on the pavement in front of the shop) was ‘wilfully obstructing the highway’, and they aggressively pushed people away from the shop, but because they didn’t facilitate the protest by providing a space for it to continue, this led to a walkabout and a short visit to the John Lewis store (which also pays its sub-contracted cleaners far less than the Living Wage).
Topshop used to have a paragraph on their ‘code of conduct’ web page, which stated that they “fully subscribe” to “the concept of a living wage”, but publicity surrounding this vague declaration led to its removal last month.
The IVW have a great track record and won a major victory in similar actions against Sotheby’s recently. On today’s showing, this powerful campaign looks to continue, and morale and optimism is high that Topshop will have to relent to save public face.
UVW post info about future protests on their Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/uvwunion)
Current petition: https://www.change.org/p/sotheby-s-london-reinstate-your-cleaners-and-pay-them-the-living-wage/u/16116671?recruiter=187171441&utm_source=share_update&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=share_twitter_responsive