Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
Photo: Dan Lockton/Flickr
Cleaners at the John Lewis on Oxford Street have successfully stopped the proposed cuts to their jobs and hours and the accompanying fourfold intensification of their workload. Not only this, but they also won a 10 per cent pay rise, back-dated to March this year. The cleaners’ success follows a high-profile campaign including strikes, flying-pickets, demonstrations and even an invasion of the store. The campaign started in May when the cleaners joined the IWW Cleaners Branch (recently relaunched as the IWGB) after being informed by John Lewis’ cleaning contractor ICM that they faced 50 per cent job losses accompanied by a 50 per cent cut in hours for those that weren’t sacked – meaning a fourfold increase in the workload for half the pay!
The campaign kicked of with a mass leafleting of the store on 22 July which was followed by a large demonstration on the busy pavement outside the store. With the union’s gigantic red flags, air horns and whistles it was impossible to ignore the over hundred boisterous supporters mobilised by the union – they could be heard on the top floor of the store. This demonstration forced ICM to begin negotiations with the cleaners but talks collapsed following ICM’s refusal to stop the cuts or recognise the union. The cleaners balloted for strike action, gaining a turnout of 80 per cent with 90 per cent voting in favour.
Friday 13th of July proved unlucky for John Lewis as the first strike in its history commenced at 5.30 that morning. ICM brought in scabs from Peter Jones (also owned by John Lewis), so with the picket line swelling a flying-picket was sent to Peter Jones to try and dissuade cleaners at this store from crossing the picketing line at Oxford Street while putting more pressure on John Lewis by spreading the message to staff and customers at this additional store. The manger of Peter Jones responded by calling the police, but was disappointed to find out that, even in Kensington and Chelsea, it isn’t illegal to hand out flyers. At 1.30pm the demonstration turned into a store invasion as flags, air horns and drums were taken into the store and speeches given on the shop floor by union activists. This historic action was followed the very next day by another mass demonstration – this time with police protecting the entrance to the store.
The audacity and power of these actions forced John Lewis and ICM back to negotiating table but once more they refused to make any real concessions (beyond a few gift vouchers). The cleaners response was to strike again on 20 July and this time a flying-picket was sent to John Lewis’ HQ. The next strike was planned for the following Thursday – the same day as the Olympic Torch was due to pass by the store, having already gained press coverage in the Independent and Guardian John Lewis finally forced ICM to enter into real negotiations. With the cleaners’ victory assured, the strike was called off.
The success of the IWW’s campaign shows that even small numbers of workers, when acting collectively, can win. The cleaners succeeded for several reasons. Firstly, they were not afraid to use direct action tactics such as strikes and workplace invasions and occupations. Secondly, they were creative and visually, audibly and spatially multiplied the impact of their demonstrations. Thirdly, they made good use of the internet (the IWW Cleaners’ Branch has a thousand facebook friends and additionally could draw upon the IWW’s large email list of labour activists which ensured a large turnout at demonstrations and pickets even when only publicised a few days beforehand.) Finally, they strategically seized opportunities: they used John Lewis’ ethical public image and the approaching Olympics to ramp up the pressure.
The cleaners of John Lewis have shown how strikes can be won, wider labour and activist movements can learn from their success.
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Nick Dowson looks at the new wave of co-ops and community groups where people are building their own truly affordable homes
Labour’s NEC has started to empower party members – but we still have a mountain to climb
The crunch executive meeting ahead of Labour conference agreed some welcome changes, writes Michael Calderbank, but there is still much further to go
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going
A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism
Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase
Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields
Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton
Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi
A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain
Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank
Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded
West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens
Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age
Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today
The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi
Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun
Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh
With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair