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Posted on 23 July 2012 at 10:05 GMT

John Lewis cleaners strike for a living wage

John Lewis cleaners organised in the International Workers of the World (IWW) took their second day of strike action on Friday 20 July. 40 cleaners and their supporters picketed outside the company's high-profile store on Oxford Street in central London.

John Lewis pays its hard-working cleaners only the minimum wage, a measly 6.08 an hour. The cleaners are demanding a pay rise to match the London Living Wage of 8.30.

John Lewis is held up by many pro-capitalist commentators as a successful example of 'responsible capitalism', because of its employee-owned co-operative partnership scheme.

However, the cleaners on strike at John Lewis have not been allowed to enter the partnership scheme, and are denied any share of the company's profits.

Alberto Durango, the branch secretary for the IWW's London cleaners branch said: "The workers are striking about pay conditions and cuts.

"They each earn the minimum wage, 6.08 a hour. The company is testing them, the company wanted to cut 50% of cleaners' jobs, and for the remaining workfare to do twice the work.

"In reality, they were trying to reduce our pay to 3.04 a hour. The campaign has forced the company to change its position; they now want to cut 10 workers.

"We say no cuts, and a living wage. When the campaign started the workers realised they can win the living wage.

"The workers are confident. Management are trying to divide us and offer false promises, but we're not stupid, we have one voice."

Action to come

John Lewis cleaners and other workers in dispute have taken inspiration from the sparks' long and successful campaign to stop greedy pay cuts by construction bosses.

I asked Alberto: Where next for the campaign? He said: "We are gonna strike next Thursday [26th] when the Olympic torch passes down Oxford Street in front of the store.

We're going to have demos at sites nationally and locally. We might target the Olympics site in Stratford. We need support from the whole working class."

I asked Alberto if he was confident they could win. "YES! The workers are key. We don't fight like other unions and organisations, the workers have to fight.

"If you fight from the inside, if you're radical, and if you know you can win."

The whole trade union movement is behind the John Lewis cleaners. Steve Hedley, London organiser for the RMT, addressed the picketers, he explained how London Underground cleaners organised in the RMT would be taking strike action over the same issue, of their employer refusing to pay the London Living Wage.

He was alongside Chris Baugh, assistant general secretary of the PCS (civil servants trade union). Chris said: "The PCS fully supports the John Lewis workers' demand for the living wage.

"Employers who sub-contract poverty pay, like the government and John Lewis, need to be both exposed and taken on."

When John Lewis cleaners take their third day of strike action next Thursday, 26th July, pickets will be from 6am, and there will be a rally outside John Lewis at 1pm.

Ian Pattison, East London Socialist Party

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