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How the University of London used the police to try and discredit the cleaners’ campaign

Three weeks ago, on February 5th, the 3 Cosas Campaign held a protest at Senate House, University of London. The demonstration was called by outsourced workers from across Bloomsbury colleges, demanding ‘3 things’: pensions, sick pay and holidays in line with that received by in-house staff. The demonstration followed months of flyering and petitioning across campus, not only building strength within the body of outsourced workers, but also wide support from in-house staff and students. Hundreds of students from the halls of residence have signed petitions pledging their support to the campaign.

The demo was great – around 60 or 70 people came on their lunch breaks, and with the aid of the samba band drums and a lot of shouting, the crowd made itself heard by management in the building. Management decided to close some of the doors on the ground floor, although these were not being blocked by protesters – but this did mean that they were forced to explain to members of the university why there was a protest going on at all. Despite the attempts by management to escalate the situation, everything remained good natured, as the security staff are well aware that it is the 3 Cosas Campaign which has always been more concerned about their health and safety than their bosses, who force them to come to work when sick.

After about an hour the University seems to have called the police. This was the end of people’s lunch breaks, so the demo wrapped up independently. Nonetheless, after most of the crowd had dissipated, ten police took one protester to the side, a worker who had joined the protest in solidarity, and arrested him on suspicion of ‘common assault’ against a security guard. He was hand-cuffed, driven to the police station, put in a cell and his mug shots and DNA samples were taken. He was then offered two options: either admit guilt and accept a formal caution, or claim innocence and accept an interrogation and investigation from police. He chose the latter. Twenty minutes later he was released on bail on the conditions that he would reappear at the police station on 26th February, would not approach the security guard, and would not go to Senate House. 

In the meantime, the University of London claimed that they do not believe the 3 Cosas campaign has any student support, despite all the petitions, demonstrations, and student union motions passed which back all the demands in full. Following on from this outrageous claim, the University began to respond to students’ messages of support with this claim:

“We will not enter into any discussion with the 3Cosas group, whose violent actions against our staff and those of our contractors at a demonstration at Senate House on 5th February resulted in the police arrest of a 42-year-old man on suspicion of common assault.”

On the 21st of February the police called the worker and told him there was no need to reappear as the investigation was being dismissed because there were discrepancies between the allegations in the security guard’s statement and the record of events as per the CCTV cameras. So lets put the record straight. The University responded to the demonstration, organised and attended by both students and workers, by calling the police. It then seems that someone, possibly the university, had the police arrest a man for common assault. “Common assault” is the least serious kind of assault anyone can be accused of, for which no injury needs to be proven, only fear of injury, and that the fear was caused either intentionally or ‘recklessly’. The abandoning of this case by the police can only mean that with both the security guards’ statement and the CCTV footage, it was not possible to show any proof of any action which might – even unintentionally – have given rise to someone being scared of assault.

The University and the police responded to the demonstration by falsely arresting a supporter for the simple aim of discrediting the campaign, a campaign which they know full well has wide support across the Bloomsbury colleges and – thanks to the support of ULU – support is growing in other universities across London. Students and workers in London are becoming increasingly familiar with the underhand tactics of both police and bosses, and are well prepared to face it down. The workers’ demands for pensions, sick pay and holiday pay is just and reasonable – it is an indictment on the university that they are taking so long to meet them.

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Bloomsbury Fightback

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