This is an unambiguously awful occurence. The outsourced cleaning company (it makes me very angry that outsourcing cleaning should ever happen) employing the cleaners at the School of Oriental and African Studies was content to plunder them for cheap labour as long as they kept their heads down. When they dared to organise for better terms and conditions, BAM – tricked into a corner, corralled by immigration officials, some incarcerated, some already deported. Absolutely disgusting.
Stop the Deportation of SOAS University Cleaners!
Recently SOAS cleaners, through fighting back and uniting with students and other workers from other backgrounds, were able to win improvements in conditions and the London Living Wage.
At 6.30am on Friday the 12th June, without any advance warning SOAS cleaning staff were called to an emergency `Staff Meeting’, were confined in a room (G2) and then confronted by a team of 40 immigration officers in riot gear who had been hiding in the room behind the staging.
9 people were arrested and sent to detention centres and are now on fast-track to be deported from the UK, thus they may be deported within 72 hours. Five of these people are members of UNISON, and one detainee is six months pregnant, she is thought to have collapsed during the events.
Graham Dyer, Lecturer in Economics of Developing Countries and SOAS UCU Chair said: “It is no co-incidence that there is an immigration raid at a time when the UCU, Unison and the NUS are fighting against the victimisation of a migrant worker who has been at the heart of a fight that has improved the pay and conditions of workers here at SOAS. It is also not coincidental that ISS had only just signed a union recognition agreement with UNISON last week. Our fight has united lecturers, staff and students and has rocked SOAS management. Those managers are now lashing out. It is a disgrace that SOAS management saw fit to use a seat of learning to intimidate migrant workers. This is their underhand revenge and we will do all we can to stop migrant workers paying the price.”
Thus far they have been split up and detained in Borough police station, Old St police, Yarlswood, and are set to be moved to Dover detention centre, and Heathrow for deportation on Monday. As you can imagine the information from immigration authorities has not been forthcoming.
By 16:30 pm on the 12th June over 100 people showed up on the steps of SOAS for a solidarity meeting, a second meeting was held at 13:00pm on Saturday 13th.
The film director [but ignorant and often wrong] Ken Loach stated:
“This raid is the action of a bully. Migrant workers are amongst the most vulnerable – poorly paid and far from home. Recent action by Unison to secure better wages and conditions at SOAS was good news. Now we wonder if the SOAS cleaners are being targeted because they dared to organise as trade unionists. We should all stand with them in solidarity in the face of this victimisation.”
As we enter the first day of refugee week 3 of SOAS’s staff have already been deported including 6 months pregnant Luzia.
You can also offer your support by emailing MPs, MEPs, SOAS Management, and anyone else you can think of.
These people came, they were employed – ultimately by SOAS – to do one of the most important jobs on the campus. They have earned their amnesty, along with a living wage.
There is a petition, which I won’t sign because it strays from the point, there are parts I’m uncomfortable with, and others about which I’m ignorant. But I will be writing some letters.
Update 17 June 09
Another student occupation result (I admire this one far more than the previous bout of occupations, which sought to ring-fence grants for only Palestinian students; a bit like agitating for affirmative action for Hispanic Americans while ignoring African Americans and generally reflective of the post-colonialist – I think – fetishisation of Palestinians-as-emblematic cause):
“Joint statement from SOAS and Students’ Union
Dear staff and students,
Following the protest by students about Friday’s visit by the UK Border
Agency, we are pleased to confirm that a way forward has been agreed by
all parties involved.
The events surrounding last Friday have been deeply distressing for
everyone at SOAS and in particular the individuals who were detained.
Furthermore, we are disturbed by allegations that have emerged about the
possible role that ISS played in the visit.
We have agreed the following:
1. SOAS will write directly to the Home Secretary within 12 hours of the
end of the protest, requesting that he grants [sic] exceptional leave to
remain in the UK those cleaners who are still being detained. In
addition, SOAS will request the immediate return of those who have been
deported and exceptional leave to remain for those forced into hiding by
2. SOAS will open discussions with ISS, and separately with UNISON, UCU
and the SU, to review in detail the events of last Friday.
3. SOAS will discuss the possibility of bringing cleaning services
in-house at the next scheduled meeting of its Governing Body.
4. SOAS will meet with the relevant unions to discuss health and safety
issues relating to immigration raids and acknowledge UCU policy of
non-compliance with immigration raids.
5. SOAS will not take action against those involved in the protest.
This incident has highlighted the need for further debate regarding this
issue and, as has been mentioned in earlier correspondence, SOAS will be
speaking with other heads of universities about the wider implications
of the Government’s policy on immigration and any likely impact it may
have on our staff and students.
We recognise the valued contribution of all migrants who have worked at
SOAS over the years and have a long tradition of welcoming people from
all over the world. In our personal capacity, we would also like to
indicate our support for the regularisation of non-documented workers.
We would like to thank all staff and students for their valued
contributions, support and co-operation in recent days as we have
worked toward this agreement.
Professor Paul Webley
Director and Principal
I think some compensation is called for, from the employer ISS.
Well done, SOAS SU.