Tuesday, October 17, 2006

A tale of one protest

This was going to be a tale of two protests - since I went on two protests today. But two protests in one day is tiring, so I only have time to write about one of them, more tomorrow.

Clean Start for Cleaners

Today is international anti-poverty day (a concept I find a little weird - today we'll have international anti-poverty day - tomorrow we'll go back to ignoring international poverty). The Clean Start for Cleaners campaign organised rallies in Australia and New Zealand today, which is appropriate because to be a cleaner is to live in poverty.

All around the world Cleaners are mostly immigrant and indigenous women. Despite the fact that cleaning needs to be done everywhere, everday and it is completely devalued. The union rate for commercial cleaners is just 70 cents an hour above minimum wage. Cleaners work two or three jobs to get their hours up and have no security of employment. Subcontracting makes it so hard for cleaners to fight for better wages and conditions, because the employer can always hire someone else.

All these points were made at the rally, of course. Plus some interesting facts I didn't know (90,000 workers got a pay increase when the minimum wage went up -60,000 of them were women - low-wages, poverty and capitalism are all feminist issues). The most powerful speakers were cleaners themselves. There is no service recognition for cleaners, so two women who had cleaned for forty years were still only getting $10.95 an hour. Another woman spoke angrily about always being blamed for being a burden on the tax-payer because she got government assistance - even though she worked over 40 hours a week - she is blamed rather than the employer who won't pay a living wage.

One of the women also talked about being involved in previous cleaning struggles, and strikes. It must be so hard to have struggled and won, but seen the victory slowly eroded over the last twenty years. Particularly as you'd know that if anything was going to get better you need to fight that fight again.

Now I have some problems with the Clean Start campaign - most notably that no-one really understands what its principles are (and last I heard these principles haven't actually been translated into the first language of many of the cleaners). But I was really glad to be at this rally, in support of the cleaners.

(Part of my good feeling towards this protest is because I left before Ruth Dyson - (minister of labour) spoke. I needed to get to the other protest, and if you've heard Ruth Dyson say once that she'd like to change things, but she can't - you've heard it once too many times).

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