This university is being boycotted by academics and politicians in support of outsourced cleaners

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell among those pledging not to attend official events at the University of London

Famous professors, the National Union of Students and even the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, are boycotting the University of London (UoL) in support of outsourced workers’ campaign.

More than one hundred academics, authors, politicians and campaigners signed the pledge organised by the IWGB union, which represents cleaners, maintenance and catering staff at UoL.

The Boycott Senate House pledge reads:

“I pledge to not attend or organise any events at the University of London central administration (including Senate House, Stewart House, the Warburg Institute, the Institute of Historical Research, the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies and Student Central) until all outsourced workers (including cleaners, receptionists, security officers, catering staff, porters, audiovisual workers, gardeners and maintenance workers) are made direct employees of the University of London on equal terms and conditions with other directly employed staff.”

Most of the outsourced staff at the world-renowned institution are migrant and BME workers. They have been campaigning for over a year, demanding equal terms and conditions with directly employed staff. Their strikes and walk-outs have gathered a large amount of support inside and outside of the university. 

Outsourced members of staff have worse sick-, maternity- and holiday-pay than their directly employed counterparts, as well as smaller pension contributions. But instead of hearing the workers’ demands, UoL management heightened security hoping to dissuade protestors.

Academics showing solidarity with custodial workers include famous anthropologists and authors David Graeber and Jason Hickel, and feminist historian Sheila Rowbotham. 

London School of Economics anthropology professor Dr Graeber said: 

“It is completely reprehensible that people that provide such an essential service continue to be treated as second class workers by the University of London. As academics who benefit from the work of the cleaners, catering staff and other outsourced workers, we have a moral duty to stand in solidarity with them and boycott the university until it ensures that they are given the same terms and conditions as other staff.”

The IWGB believes the academic boycott of a university is only the second in British history. It is also being supported by 40 MPs and councillors from across the country. Politicians signing up the pledge alongside McDonnell included Labour MP for Leeds North West, Alex Sobell, and his Gateshead colleague Ian Mearns, as well as Green Party co-leader Jonathan Bartley.

London Borough of Southwark councillor Jack Buck told Left Foot Forward:

“The dispute between outsourced cleaners and the University of London has been going on for years. So myself, a host of other Southwark Labour councillors and Southwark Momentum are supporting the boycott of Senate House until the University finally do the right thing and bring the cleaners back in house.

“Migrant and precarious workers across the country deserve nothing less than fair pay and conditions for the work that they do.”

UoL had already promised to bring outsourced workers in-house when it u-turned, promising only some individuals a direct employment contract and suggesting the rest waits for their contracts to be up for tender – anywhere between next year and 2021. An in-house bid would then be made alongside commercial ones.

The IWGB believe the plan would leave “the door open for the workers to remained outsourced indefinitely” and that there is a “regime of bullying and discrimination” by the UoL management towards cleaners.

University of London cleaner Margarita Cunalata said: 

“For over a year, we have been asking the university to respect us as equal members of staff, yet it has made clear that it sees us as less than human. We have sent letters, we have been on protests and we have gone on strike, but the university doesn’t even have the basic decency to sit down with us and negotiate.

“We are tremendously grateful that academics are willing to support our fight by boycotting the university until it makes us direct employees.”

UoL made a reported £43 million in the last financial year from conferences and student residences alone. The IWGB hopes that having renowned academics and politicians boycotting such an important revenue stream acts as the final push in the campaign.

A list of all the signatories can be found on

Joana Ramiro is a reporter for Left Foot Forward. You can follow her on Twitter for all sorts of rants here.

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