Earlier today nine cleaners at SOAS were arrested. The staff, mainly of Ecuadorian and possibly Colombian origin, have been arrested and are being processed for deportation as part of an anti-union campaign at the school.
A demonstration had been organised at SOAS this morning in support of Stalin Bermudez, the SOAS Unison branch chair, who was sacked earlier this year after a highly controversial disciplinary process. A Unison representative arrived at the college, just off Russell Square, at 7am this morning to discover a number of immigration control officers who had detained and were processing cleaning staff, and interrogating them about their status. The union received no prior warning.
The Green Party has pledged its full support for the staff, and Jean Lambert MEP is already in contact with the union, who are arranging legal representation. Unison and UCU were holding an emergency meeting to decide on subsequent action.
Jean Lambert, London’s newly re-elected Green Party MEP, said:
“The circumstances and aims of this raid are utterly deplorable. These cleaning staff have been treated like criminals, and the timing of the raid is particularly reprehensible – first thing in the morning at the end of the university term, with fewer people around to intervene. Luckily, the union has been on hand to help arrange legal assistance for those arrested, and it is also fortunate that the demonstration – ironically called to highlight existing concerns about the treatment of SOAS staff – meant that this raid was noticed and immediate steps could be taken.Graham Dyer, Lecturer in Economics of Developing Countries and SOAS UCU Chair said:
“I reiterate and reinforce the support already pledged by the Green Party, and I will be monitoring this case and its outcomes closely. Today’s events highlight the need to find ways for people to regularise their status so that their vital contribution to London and society in general is recognised. It also makes the Strangers Into Citizens campaign, organised by London Citizens, still more urgent.”
“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.”The film director Ken Loach said:
"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."Support the Strangers into citizens campaign for a migrant workers' amnesty.
Follow developments at Solomon's Minefield.