LSE Cleaners Point the Way for Imperial War Museums staff

Cleaners at London School of Economics (LSE) have recently won the promise to be taken in-house by LSE from Spring 2018 and have restored equal contractual rights as in-house cleaners. This follows a 10-month campaign, organised notably by their union, United Voices of the World (UVW), of protest and strikes by the cleaners and their student, academic and trade union supporters to restore equal, humane and liveable working conditions – and to oppose harsh workplace retaliation by their employer, Noonan Services. The experiences of LSE’s workers is both a dire warning and example for staff at the Imperial War Museums who are also employed by Noonan.

LSE renewed their cleaning contract with Noonan Services last year, a cleaning and facilities management company originating in Ireland and currently owned by a private equity firm based in Guernsey and London. The result has been the creation of a two-class structure of outsourced cleaners on inferior, precarious and, in some cases, unliveable contractual terms who have alleged harsh disciplinary actions and their right to trade union representation being infringed.

The same two-class system is being implemented by Noonan Services at the Imperial War Museums (IWM), which contracted out its Visitor Services & Security team in 2014. Noonan Services picked up the contract in 2016 after the company that was awarded the £10-11 million contract by IWM – Shield Guarding – went into administration.

Whilst such companies cannot drive down costs immediately be making wholesale changes to contracts, due to Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations (TUPE) – they aim to do this gradually through, as the defunct Shield Group proposed in their bid to IWM: “reduction in staff numbers; the benefits of providing additional staff from their (Shield) reserve and support teams; and the natural turnover in staff will enable them to employ on their terms and not IWM terms.”

Noonan’s cleaners at LSE receive 1% pensions contribution from their employer, whilst in-house staff receive up to a 16% contribution. The outsourced staff receive 28 days paid annual leave, include bank holidays, whilst in-house staff receive 40 days, including bank holidays and university closures. Noonan staff are entitled only to Statutory Sick Pay – the minimum legal amount – which means no sick pay for the first 3 days and then £88.45 per week from the fourth consecutive day.

Restructuring

At the Imperial War Museum, Visitor Services management staff have been paid off by Noonan or the Imperial War Museums to take early retirements or new roles and have either been replaced by staff on lesser contracts or not been replaced at all.

Due to reduced staff numbers and increased workload, LSE’s cleaning staff have complained of physical and psychological distress. A case that is still unresolved at LSE is the 2016 removal of Alba Pasmino by Noonan from the supervisor team after several years’ service, starting as a cleaner. She was given a few days’ notice as numbers were reduced from 18 to 13 roles and redefined as “Team Leaders”.  The campaign to have Alba Pasmino reinstated to her role is ongoing.

An early day House of Commons motion signed by 21 MPs, stated that (with my emphasis in bold):

“this House notes with concern that cleaners who are employed at the London School of Economics (LSE) by the contractor Noonan Services receive inferior terms and conditions to their in-house counterparts in respect of sick pay, pensions and maternity, paternity and adoption leave pay; condemns victimisation by Noonan of members of the cleaning workforce who are members of the trades union United Voices of the World (UVW) and who have taken an active part in the campaign to improve their terms and conditions; is concerned that Noonan and the LSE failed to take action over a serious allegation made by a cleaner and member of UVW of homophobic abuse; is also concerned that Noonan have sought to ban the cleaners’ trades union from representing members of the cleaning staff, an act which infringes on their right to trades union representation; believes that a prestigious and wealthy institution such as the LSE should not have a two-tier workforce, and should properly monitor and hold to account their contractor and intervene where necessary to ensure that cleaners are treated with respect and dignity; and calls on the LSE and Noonan to ensure that the cleaners’ demands in respect of equal terms and conditions, a reduction in workloads, a review of disciplinary procedures and the reinstatement of their colleague Alba Pasmino are met.”

Protest

LSE cleaners’ and their trade unions’ success in pressurising LSE to bring them back in-house was achieved through 10-months of activism that brought together students, academic, wider trade union, public and political support. It was a painful process for the cleaners and close supporters, involving a 7-day strike, arrests at protests and alleged retaliation at work by Noonan. This was conducted by cleaners who were previously earning less than the London Living wage, with no union representation and all from migrant or BAME backgrounds.

Imperial War Museum Visitor Services & Security staff face the same challenges in halting the two-class system and the contractual race to the bottom. Whilst an online petition calling for protection of staff rights and an end to privatisation has achieved 1,191 signatures, so far, the union that represents some staff and published the petition, the Public & Commercial Services Union (PCS) has not succeeded in opposing the changes by the Imperial War Museum or its latest contractor, Noonan.

United Voices of the World

It was the new union, United Voices of the World (UVW) which describes itself as a grass-roots, member-led trade union comprising mostly of migrant workers, that succeeded where the established Unison, which represented some LSE cleaners, had not. When UVW first arrived on the scene in 2016, LSE refused to negotiate with them; however, as the cleaners increasingly turned to UVW and following strike action, LSE relented and entered into negotiations.

Imperial War Museum’s cleaning staff and cafe staff have long been contracted out. The cafe staff work for Sodexo, an international conglomerate, after previous contractor, Peyton & Byrne, went into administration in October 2016. IWM cleaning staff work for a new contractor, Servest, who have recently been awarded a 5-year contract.

Further potential for upheaval is on the horizon for Imperial War Museum staff as Noonan’s owner, Guernsey-based private equity firm, Alchemy Partners, is set to sell the company. Amongst the reported three bidders are Bidvest, a South African conglomerate with businesses in financial services, car sales and freight management and HIG Capital, another private equity firm. Should the deal go through for the expected 170 – 190 million, it will represent a potential 100% mark-up for Alchemy who acquired Noonan for 90 million in 2008.

Further information

View a montage of scenes from the LSE cleaners’/UVW union 7-day strike. Protests for the reinstatement of cleaning supervisor Alba Pasmino continue.

Imperial War Museum – Three years of privatised crisis – Counterfire website.

Electrical Gaza: Rosalind Nashashibi & the Turner Prize 2017

 

Turner Prize 2017: Rosalind Nashashibi & Electrical Gaza

Two years ago, a UN report warned that Gaza, which is one part of the Occupied Territories, could become uninhabitable by 2020 as a result of lack of infrastructure and services, such as clean water, arising from the Israeli-Egyptian blockade that started in 2007 and the three consecutive military operations that have occurred since (2008, 2012 & 2014). The blockade on construction material is making rebuilding damaged buildings difficult and 75,000 remain internally displaced since the 2014 conflict. Socio-economic conditions are at the lowest point since 1967 with unemployment standing at over 40%. 43% of the 2 million population are children aged 14 years or under.

The Turner Prize 2017 nominated artist, Rosalind Nashashibi – who is of Palestinian-Irish descent – and was born in Croydon, says, ”I think of the Gaza Strip as having been put under a kind of enchantment by the world powers. I’m using terms from an archaic or childish language to allow the extraordinary conditions to show through with all the attendant fear, excitement, suffering and boredom of life under enchantment.”

One of the pieces that Nashashibi has been nominated for is her 18 minute film titled “Electrical Gaza” commissioned by the Imperial War Museum in the UK, which was one of the pieces in her nominated solo California exhibition called On This Island. The film shows everyday life in Gaza, from children playing, a man preparing and eating food, young men washing horses on the coast and market scenes. These scenes were captured in 2014, in the period of the build-up to the most recent outbreak of full-scale violence, during Operation Protective Edge which resulted in the deaths of 1,462 Palestinian civilians and 6 Israeli civilians. There is no distinct linear narrative to the film. Occasionally, it switches to animated depictions of scenes, as if to question the audiences understanding of reality.

The Turner Prize jury said of Nashashibi’s nominated works, which also includes Documenta 14, that “they were impressed by the depth and maturity… which often examines sites of human occupation and the coded relationships that occur within those spaces – whether a family home or garden, a ship or the Gaza Strip. Her films use the camera as an eye to observe moments and events, contrasting reality with moments of fantasy and myth. They show how the intimate and everyday collide with issues of surveillance and control.”

The film, Electrical Gaza, is largely without dialogue or speech, so the viewer must interpret the significance of scenes. The title may be a reference to the shortage of electricity in Gaza. Following a recent dispute between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, Israel has reduced electricity further and now Gazans receive up to 4 hours of electricity a day at no fixed time. Gaza’s only power plant was closed as a result of running out of fuel, threatening the partial or full closure of essential services in medical facilities and difficulty in treating sewage which is threatening a public health hazard. The crisis was temporarily eased by a supply of diesel from Egypt, pushed through by Hamas through a court order.

A scene in Nashashibi’s film depicting the Gazan coast evokes the maritime restrictions that mean that Gazan fishermen can only sail a maximum of 6 nautical miles from the coast before they will be fired upon by the Israeli navy.

 

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The film all but ends with footage of Gazans waiting at the Rafah Crossing into Egypt in 2014. This is one of three putative ways out of the strip for Gazans and is controlled by Egyptian authorities but it has largely been closed since 2014 since the change in regime in Egypt. The film shows a crowd of men waiting at the gate, hoping that it will open, in many cases, for medical treatment, or to see family in the West Bank or elsewhere.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in April of this year, three patients died awaiting Israeli permits to leave Gaza for medical care – a 5 yr old girl with cerebral palsy, a 53 yr old woman and a 59 yr old man, both cancer patients. Gaza has limited access to chemotherapy drugs and cannot provide radiography at all as radio isotopes are on the list of prohibited imports.

Whilst the British government has publicly criticised Israel’s blockade of Gaza and settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, their actions have often contradicted their words. In May, the World Health Assembly at the UN voted on a decision to mandate the WHO to, “support the development of the health system in the occupied Palestinian territory … with a particular focus on strengthening primary care and integrating mental health services provision into primary care services, as well as on health prevention and integrated disease management.”

The decision passed with a majority but the UK voted against, saying in its explanation: “The WHO is one of the world’s most important technical agencies. It should not be a place where we argue over geopolitics.”

A similar contradiction can be found in the supply of military components to Israel. Soon after the 51-day conflict in Gaza in 2014, the UK agreed a new £4 million military components deal.

Artist, Rosalind Nashashibi says, “Gaza has been closed from the outside. There is a strong feeling of autonomy and activism and a corresponding fatalism and despair, another contradiction- Gazans are set apart from the rest of the world and yet know that their situation is in some way central to it.”

The other Turner Prize nominees are Andrea Buttner (Stuttgart), Lubaina Himid (born in Tanzania and raised in the UK) and Hurvin Anderson (from Birmingham, UK, of Jamaican descent). For the first time since 1990 there is no upper age-limit of 50 to the Prize, enabling Lubaina Himid, who is 63 and Hurvin Anderson, who is 52, to be selected.

An exhibition of work by the shortlisted artists will open at Ferens Art Gallery in Hull on September 26 2017 and the winner will be announced at an award ceremony on December 5. This year, the prize will be awarded on not just the nominated works but, also, the prize show.

Further reading

The shortlist recognises three women, two painters, two over-50s. All have origins or parentage from outside the UK. German artist Andrea Büttner divides her time between London and Stuttgart. Birmingham-born African-Caribbean painter Hurvin Anderson is nominated for a recent show in Toronto; Büttner for exhibitions in LA and Switzerland. Long may this openness continue post-Brexit, when, I predict, art education will go into an even steeper decline, and the current internationalism of the British art world, and cultural life in general, will slide into a marginal provincialism.

Turner Prize 2017: a cosmopolitan rebuff to Brexit and provincialism – Adrian Searle, The Guardian newspaper, 3 May 2017

Alex Farquharson, director of Tate Modern and jury chairman, said: “I think we can safely acknowledge that artists can experience a breakthrough at any age without any risk of the prize becoming a lifetime achievement award. This year’s shortlist is a case in point: two of the four artists on this year’s list are over 50. They all had breakthrough years in 2017.”

The not so Young British Artists: All 2017 Turner Prize nominees are aged over 40: The Daily Telegraph, Anita Singh, 3 May 2017

Audio: Turner Prize 2017: Tate Modern director Alex Farquharson interview

The Value of Human Interaction: Talks at IWM London

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IWM expert guide talk on WW1 Nery Artillery Gun

In the absence of the availability of audio guides, visitors seeking supporting context and more detailed narrative at IWM London have relied on a series of excellent daily talks by the Museum’s expert guides. They might be brief and focusing on particular displays but the talks provide informative and meaningful human interaction at  the Museum.

To add to these talks, IWM London has just announced a new £10-a-ticket introductory tour, “From Bedlam to Baghdad” which, in approximately 40 minutes, provides an overview of the origins of the building as Bethlem Hospital  – known as ‘Bedlam’ – through to the displays on three floors of the Museum. These tours will occur on selected days at 12 pm and  2 pm.

Museumtour

Free daily talks

The provision of the evolving series of free, public 20/30 minute talks provided by expert staff has been a highly effective development at IWM London since the £40 million redevelopment in 2014. The talks tend to focus on a particular display or exhibit and provide useful context and background for visitors who can drop-in to the talks – and, even, take a seat on a folding stool.

Most recently, the range of free daily talks have covered:

(i) Baghdad Car – destroyed in a suspected suicide bomb in Baghdad’s Al-Mutanabbi Street. Toured around the US by artist Jeremy Deller before being donated to IWM.

(ii) Little Boy atomic bomb casing, one of which was dropped on Hiroshima – providing information on the impact of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki from both military and human perspectives.

(iii) Berlin Wall segment

(iv) John Singer Sargent painting, Gassed (Currently, this exhibit is being loaned to institutions in North America)

(v) Jacqmar scarves – propaganda scarves celebrating achievements of Winston Churchill

(vi) Midget X-7 submarine assigned to attack German battleship, Tirpitz on 22 September 1943.

(vii) Falkland Islands conflict display

(viii) Nery Artillery Gun (QF 13 pdr Mk 1 ) – deployed during WW1 from August 1914 by British forces as part of Cavalry Division.

(ix) V2 and V1 (doodlebug) German rockets and impact of London blitz.

Human Interaction

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The newly launched introductory paid tour to IWM London is likely to be a very useful addition to the talks available at the Museum. The history of the building’s use as ‘Bedlam’, the mental patient hospital, is not currently presented in any exhibit in the Museum, so will be of particular interest to many visitors.

It is essential that IWM London retains its roster of engaging free daily talks, alongside this new paid tour initiative. The value of the talks in bringing to life objects and exhibitions and placing them in historical context is great.

There has been a deskilling of IWM staff since the 2014 privatisation of Visitor Services and Security staff in favour of security personnel on short-term precarious contracts. Expert staff guidance and context is less available as a result, making the availability of free talks of particular importance to visitors.

Moreover, as more and more Museum transactions occur online, from buying tickets to ascertaining information, the real human interaction with an expert guide is increasingly an invaluable offering and a major draw for visitors.

New daily talks are regularly developed by the IWM team to address important aspects of the collection and exhibitions. Talks occur at regular intervals during the day. It is advisable to contact the Museum in advance to find out if a particular talk is occurring on a given day.

Syria: A Conflict Explored

 

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IWM London

Syria: A Conflict Explored runs until 3 September 2017

IWM London continues to commit itself to examine contemporary conflict. Having recently shown art installations concerning life in Gaza, the US drone campaign in north-west Pakistan and, currently, displaying Edmund Clark’s ‘War of Terror’ – IWM London has opened a series on the conflict in Syria.

There are three aspects to IWM’s new Syria programme – an exhibit of  over 60 photographs by Sergey Ponomarev taken within the government controlled area of Syria in 2013-14 and of refugees escaping, an exhibit covering the origins of the conflict, curated by Dr Christopher Phillips – and a series of pop-up events through to August 2017, produced by creative agency, Anagram. A recent such event was the Conflict Cafe, when visitors had an opportunity to speak to refugees whilst partaking in Syrian refreshments.

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From the Middle East Monitor

The Imperial War Museum in London kick started its Conflict Now series yesterday with the Syria: A Conflict Explored event. The series will be running at the museum until September this year and will hold a series of exhibitions and events reflecting upon the ongoing conflict in Syria.

Part of the series includes an exhibition of photographs, the first of its kind in the UK, by award-winning Russian documentary photographer Sergey Ponomarev, which opened officially yesterday evening.

The exhibition showcases 60 powerful and evocative colour prints and digital media from two award-winning bodies of Ponomarev’s work which explores the human consequences of the Syria conflict and its connection to the ongoing refugee crisis.

The pictures are set across four rooms with two sections called Assad’s Syria and The Exodus. The former will feature pictures by the photographer from one of the few who were allowed into government-controlled areas of Syria in 2013-2014, and the latter will feature over 40 photographs taken by Ponomarev at the height of the European refugee crisis between 2015-2016.

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Photograph by photographer Sergey Ponomarev displayed in the photo exhibition. [Jehan Alfarra / Middle East Monitor]

BBC Panorama – The Spy in the IRA – Review

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The Spy in the IRA, a BBC Panorama production, examines the role of Freddie Scappaticci as a British Military Intelligence informant operating at the heart of the IRA’s informant assassination team. Code-named “Stakeknife” by the Military Intelligence, his direct role in at least 18 murders is currently subject to a police investigation. The British state’s role in these murders is implicitly under scrutiny, for Scappaticci was their “golden egg” in the IRA.

Ian Hurst, a former British Military Intelligence employee, who features in the documentary, leaked the role of “Stakeknife” and, then, the identity of Freddie Scappaticci. It is thanks to Hurst that this aspect of likely British state collusion in IRA murders has reached the public, though Scappaticci is now protected from media contact by a court order.

The former Head of Special Branch in Northern Ireland, Ray White, presented in the documentary, acknowledges that his team had to, on “rare” occasions, play God. That is, to sit and watch torture and murder of an individual going ahead in order to preserve their informants in the IRA – and to save other lives.

Yet, how many lives were saved by this policy used by both Special Branch and Military Intelligence and how many sacrificed remains unknown. The IRA assassinations of Mike Kearney, Vincent Robinson and Joseph Fenton are directly addressed by the documentary. Kearney, a 20 year old alleged to have disclosed the location of an IRA explosives dump to the Royal Ulster Constabulary, was shot in the head. Vincent Robinson’s body was brutally beaten and dumped. Joseph Fenton, who was paid by Special Branch to provide bugged properties to the IRA, was allegedly interrogated directly by Freddie Scappattici and, eventually, shot in the back and the head.

The documentary claims that Scappattici’s Army handlers were informed of the IRA’s internal security unit or “Nutting Squad’s” planned interrogations and murders and, yet, in the main, did nothing to protect men who were also in the pay of the British intelligence services. In the case of Sandy Lynch, highlighted in the documentary, an intervention was made and he was rescued from the IRA.

“This is the story of how far the intelligence services compromised their peace-time values in an effort to beat the IRA – a story, some have been determined, should never see the light of day,” is how reporter, John Ware, introduces the documentary.

Yet, the story is incomplete. When John Stevens, now Lord Stevens, was first brought in to conduct a police investigation into the undercover war, he was told that Military Intelligence had no agents in the IRA. He also found that related documents had been destroyed as part of normal procedure.

Moreover, Military Intelligence was working for MI5 and, the role of that agency remains unknown. “I think Scappattici has the potential to pull the roof down – on all sorts of people, whether at the top of the Republican leadership or whether in the intelligence community and beyond. And, I’ll be amazed if we get to that point,” Barney Rowan, a former BBC correspondent says.

An ongoing police investigation, known as Operation Kenova, lead by Chief Constable John Boutcher from Bedfordshire Police, is examining the role of Stakeknife and the surrounding circumstances. Many of the sources in the documentary are anonymous. It is likely that more people like Ian Hurst will be needed to come out with evidence for justice to be done.

British state collusion in paramilitary violence in Northern Ireland involved paying and, even, arming informants and culpability for murders and cover ups continues to be argued.