Sunday, 18 April 2010

Cleaners’ strike: Update 6

Last week saw an intensification of the conflict, with blockades of offices of cleaning company CSU and a sleepover at the headquarters of the UWV unemployment agency. Meanwhile, employers are making some attempts to discredit the strikers, and media are trying to catch up on the unions’ organising approach.
On Tuesday, hundreds of cleaners blockaded the CSU headquarters in the south of the Netherlands, a number of them occupying the roof of the building. Management was forced to accept that employees were unable to enter the building. Simultaneously, solidarity groups blockaded the CSU branch in Amsterdam Zuidoost. Union FNV Bondgenoten says CSU is standing in the way of a solution of the labour conflict.
On Thursday, the Support the Cleaners Committee planned a small solidarity manifestation at the UWV headquarters in Amsterdam, with the goal of explaining to UWV staff why their building has not been cleaned for weeks. Hundreds of cleaners joined the action and some of them stayed overnight. UWV staff were presented with roses and sweets. Reportedly, management tried to prevent staff meeting with the cleaners, advising them to leave the building through the car park.
Meanwhile, employers are trying to discredit the cleaners’ efforts to reach a better contract. Jacco Vonhof, a negotiator on behalf of the employers’ organisation, accused political party SP of using the cleaners’ strike for electoral purposes (hilariously claiming to speak in a ‘personal capacity’ because he did not want to ‘add fuel to the flames’). Ron Meyer of FNV Bondgenoten said that Vonhof is trivializing what is at stake: “The cleaners are protesting in order to be able to support their families. This has nothing to do with politics or the SP. We’d like to reach an agreement rather sooner than later.” Incidentally, Vonhof is himself an active member of right-wing party VVD.
Meanwhile, employers’ organisations are concerned that the cleaners’ strike might prove successful and set a precedent. “If it works here, then there’s no stopping it. We’ll get similar actions among refuse collectors, people in the dairy sector, civil servants,” an anonymous spokesperson told De Pers.
De Pers was one of several newspapers to run large front-page articles on the organising approach of FNV Bondgenoten, inspired by cleaners’ campaigns in the USA and elsewhere. As Meyer explained in De Pers, “It’s no longer the union official who’s taking care of things; it’s the people on the shop floor who are doing all the actions and organising. We’d forgotten about that for the past thirty years. We had become caretakers.”
This afternoon, the Congress of GroenLinks put Linda Voortman (who plays an active role in the cleaners’ campaign) on number 10 of the list of candidates for the 9 June election, higher than the list of recommendations had suggested. Polls suggest GroenLinks may obtain 10 to 11 seats in Parliament.
Image: blockade of CSU office in Uden (photo FNV Bondgenoten). Sign the petition to support the cleaners’ strike (fill out name, city and email address and check box if your name may be published).

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