Today cleaners at John Lewis’ Oxford St. store have struck work and formed picket lines outside. This is the first time in its 148 year history that a strike has taken place at the store.
John Lewis has a reputation for being hostile to unions. Poverty pay is still a reality, not just for cleaners, but for many workers across the partnership – even when last year’s annual bonus of 14 per cent is included.
Already excluded from being partners (and the benefits of an annual bonus, discount, pension etc), things for the cleaners got worse earlier this year when John Lewis decided to cut it’s cleaning budget. In order to win the contract the cleaners’ direct employer ICM made an overly competitive bid. In accepting such a low tender John Lewis made job cuts inevitable for the cleaners at their store. John Lewis can not eschew responsibility when it is their actions which are directly to blame for the harmful cuts at their flagship store. ICM informed the cleaners in May that they could expect around half of their jobs to go and those who remained would have their hours cut by 50 per cent. Meaning that the remaining cleaners would have had to increase the intensity of their work by a factor of four for half the pay.
Cleaners at John Lewis organised a campaign to put pressure on ICM. The first action took place at midday on Friday 22 July with a mass leafleting at the entrances to the flagship store, this was followed the next day by a large and extremely loud demonstration outside which was attended by over a hundred people. The next demonstration was called off in order to allow negotiations to take place in good faith. However, this was not reciprocated by ICM who rejected outright the union’s demand that they end the practice of poverty wages and start paying the London Living Wage of £8.30. They, therefore, balloted for strike action, gaining a turnout of 80 per cent and 90 per cent voting in favour.