Hotel cleaners in Manhattan earn $28.50 per hour; three times as much as their British counterparts, Aditya Chakrabortty of the Guardian reports. Why? Because hotel staff in Manhattan are organised and have a unionisation rate of 70%.
Unions in the UK (and elsewhere) complain that many new jobs are low-paid service jobs. “Graduates are becoming not barristers but baristas – and not just for a few weeks but for years.” Chakrabortty argues this criticism is justified but no excuse for fatalism:
First, for the labour movement to recognise that Britain’s major growth industries are in poverty-pay sectors, and then not to try organising those sectors, amounts to little more than an early call for its obituarists to get typing. Second, workers in those sectors can not only organise – they can take serious industrial action.
He points to a strike of care staff in Doncaster and to cleaners who won a living wage after a campaign at University of London.
Over the past weekend, Chakrabortty has been talking to workers at InterContinental Hotels Group. He heard stories about low pay, intimidation and discrimination. This can change, he argues. What it takes is ‘committed, deft organising’.