National call for action – defend SOAS cleaners

Students and allies at the University of London’s School of School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) have occupied the university to protest against managers’ attacks on migrant workers, when nine cleaners from the university were taken into detention after a dawn raid by immigration police on Friday. Five have already been deported and the two remaining are in Yarl’s Wood detention centre.

We see this raid as indicative of a current political climate, which sees not only corporatisation of universities but the extension of surveillance and border processing to its institutions, affecting both staff and students. We need to form a national strategy uniting workers, staff, students and the wider community against racist immigration controls and erosion of workers rights.

***SUs contact your UNISON branch and speak to your cleaners. Find out which company they are contracted to, and identify individuals at risk. Contact us to receive translated booklets to help your cleaners prepare, and give them emergency contacts.
***As a long term more sustainable measure, campaign to unionise workers and bring them in house for equal protection of university staff.
***Take action against ISS (the company our cleaners are contracted to) and the Home Office.
***Follow us on Join our occupation, send messages of support, sign our online petition and keep watch for upcoming demonstrations.


The cleaners won the London Living Wage and trade union representation after a successful “Justice for Cleaners” campaign. Activists believe the raid is managers’ “revenge” for the campaign.

John McDonnell MP said: “As living wage campaigns are building in strength, we are increasingly seeing the use of immigration statuses to attack workers fighting against poverty wages and break trade union

Immigration officers were called in by cleaning contractor ISS, even though it has employed many of the cleaners for years. Cleaning staff were told to attend an ‘emergency staff meeting’ at 6.30am on Friday (June 12); a false pretext to lure the cleaners into a closed space from which the immigration officers in full riot gear were hiding to interrogate and arrest them, before escorting them to the detention
centre. They were allowed no legal or trade union representation, or even a translator (many are native Spanish speakers).

Five of the SOAS cleaners have already been deported, and the others could face deportation within days. One has had a suspected heart attack and was denied access to medical assistance and even water. One was over 6 months pregnant. Many have families who have no idea of their whereabouts.

The management of SOAS, a university that prides itself on its global outlooks and left wing politics were complicit in the immigration raid by enabling the officers to hide in the meeting room beforehand and giving no warning to them. Cleaning contractor ISS used the same tactics against tube cleaners that went on strike with the result that key activists were deported.

Ken Loach says “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.”

Watch this space for news of demonstrations and other actions!