Interview with Sonia Chura, Vice-Chair of University of London Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB).
The union organises outsourced workers who are running the “3 Cosas campaign” for sick pay, holidays and pensions What are the issues facing women workers?
Issues facing women workers include excessive workload, especially on Mondays and Tuesdays. Women finish work with spinal pain, kidney pain and sore hands. In summer it’s even worse. There’s a lot more work in halls because of conferences. We take out the trash, make the beds, clean the closets, vacuum, and change the linen. It’s very hard work in the summer.
Do women managers behave differently from the male ones?
It’s relative because there are more women managers and only a few male managers. It’s ironic because many of these women started as cleaners. They move up and forget about what it was like. They’re very demanding. They’ve forgotten what the conditions were like.
Some feminists say that having more women managers or “businesswomen” is progress. What do you think?
Very few women managers support us or care about us. They do what is in the best interests of the company. Recently, one manager took advantage of her position as a Unison rep to set up a meeting. It was ostensibly about contracts but they brought Unison officials, including Ruth Levin, to try and poach members from us at any cost.
Are there any issues of sexism or male domination in the IWGB branch?
There is no issue. There is equality between men and women. The Chair of our branch is a man and the Vice-Chair is a woman. Women are always in a majority in the weekly 3 Cosas meetings.
Do you have links with women in other unions?
A little. We have contact with women in SOAS Unison, but being in different unions sometimes complicates things because of what happened to us in Unison.
Are women in the IWGB involved or interested in feminist or women’s rights campaigns beyond the union?
Yes. Many organisations support us, such as Latin American Women’s NGOs and the Coalition of Latin Americans in the UK (CLAUK). Some of their women activists say that our campaign is an example for women in this country. Women in other cities, not just this one, should follow the model of our campaign to fight for their own objectives. This is especially true for other outsourced workers and cleaners, who are mostly women. There is lots of bad treatment from managers in other sectors, and many workers without rights to sick pay, holidays and pensions. And there are lots of barriers; it’s a fight. The companies are devilish institutions. We will keep fighting. It’s difficult.
What would you say to student feminist activists about why they should get involved in supporting your struggle?
Every struggle is a big fight and effort. In many other places, women are in similar situations. We need moral support. They can support the strike and recognise the importance of the objectives which we want to achieve.
For more on the 3 Cosas struggle go to their campaign website here.