The cleaners at John Lewis are the latest in a surge of grassroots worker-run initiatives fighting for the London Living wage reports Matt Bonner

Last Saturday, department store chain John Lewis’ flagship store was met with a customer supported protest by it’s cleaning staff who are demanding the company pay them the London Living Wage. John Lewis Partnership, the UK’s leading retailer, outsource it’s cleaning staff through an external agency, avoiding paying them the recommended minimum London wage of £9.15 per hour and the 14% bonus enjoyed by the directly employed staff they work alongside.

The cleaners say the company, known for its policy of “Never Knowingly Undersold”, are treating them like second class citizens.

Back in December, the campaign gained support when a similar protest inside the store was abruptly halted by heavy handed police who arrested three people. Since then the group’s campaign is also highlighting police brutality against workers who are using their democratic right to peaceful protest. This time, after speeches and flyering outside the main entrance on Oxford Street, protestors marched around the building to each door which was then blocked by police and locked by security.

John Lewis protest by cleanersThe cleaners at John Lewis are the latest in a surge of grassroots worker-run initiatives organising with IWGB (Independent Workers of Great Britain). The independent trade union also represents cleaners from The Royal Opera House who fought for, and won, the London living wage early last year, and the 3 Cosas campaign who won the living wage, as well as sick pay, holidays and pensions for cleaning staff at the University of London.

IWGB President Jason Moyer-Lee, says

“John Lewis’ move to welcome the London Met into its store where they brutally arrested three IWGB supporters was as short-sighted as its decision to pay poverty wages in the first place, as the public backlash has only fed further support for the IWGB campaign.”

John Lewis Partnership is owned by a trust on behalf of all its employees, who are known as partners. Partners have a say in how the company is run, as well as a share of the annual profits through a bonus scheme. Meanwhile, the outsourced cleaners receive none of these benefits and are currently paid a wage around that of the national minimum wage of £6.50 an hour. 

Jason says:

“The IWGB London Living Wage Campaign at John Lewis is highlighting the hypocrisy of a store which claims to be a decent employer yet pays its cleaners poverty wages. As a growing consensus of Londoners, from all political backgrounds, acknowledge that anything short of the living wage is insufficient to satisfy basic needs, John Lewis is increasingly isolated by its exploitative labour practices.”

Last year the number of people earning less than the living wage grew to over 5 million.

This week, news emerged that the Low Pay Commission is undecided whether to back a 50p-an-hour rise in the national minimum wage to £7 this October. The minimum wage has not increased in line with inflation in six of the eight years since 2006.

Household income per capita is still almost £600 lower than it was before the financial crash in 2008. Incomes are expected to rise by 1.7% this year but are are unlikely to regain the level they were before the crash until the early months of 2016.

Nearly 130,000 people have signed a petition calling on John Lewis to pay their cleaners a living wage. Jason insists that “winning the living wage is a matter of when, not if. And the IWGB will continue to campaign until it is won.”

IWGB are planning strike action and an occupation in the coming weeks. You can support the campaign by signing the petition.

Matt Bonner

Matt is a campaigner and graphic designer based in London.

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