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Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Justice for the cleaners

A still from Ken Loach's Bread and Roses (2000)

Today’s post will be in English only because it deals with a sad British reality which came to my knowledge through an article by Fran Abrams in today’s Guardian: “Britain’s cleaners do the dirtiest jobs.” Abrams went undercover as a cleaner and she describes the dire working conditions of the female immigrants–most cleaners are–she worked with (no living wage, unpaid compulsory overtime, etc.). Uncertain immigration status for some, and lack of fluency in English, make it impossible for them to unionise, especially as they don’t all speak the same language. I have little doubt that the same is true elsewhere in Europe.
The article reminded me of Ken Loach’s Bread and Roses, a 2000 film set in L. A. describing exactly the same situation. I’m sure those who have seen the film still remember the first meeting between the young Mexican janitor and the Adrian Brody character popping out of a bin like a Jack-in-the-box.
Abrams’s article also reminded me of French journalist Florence Aubenas’s undercover report as an unqualified worker in the North of France. Her book is called Le Quai de Ouistreham (2010) and it is investigative journalism at its best. She also ended up as a cleaner on a ferry between France and Britain. One of her fellow workers said to her: ‘you’ll see, when you’re a cleaner you will be invisible.

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