From our friends in AWSM: On 17th February, 2010, members of the Aotearoa Workers Solidarity Movement attended a rally of striking cleaners at Parliament in Wellington organized by the Service and Food Workers Union (SFWU). The rally was part of the SFWU’s clean start campaign demanding and hourly wage increase from $12.55 to $14.62 for cleaners employed at Parliament and the police college in Porirua, in line with a recent pay increase for hospital cleaners and directly-employed school cleaners. — For many cleaners their job is hard enough even without the poverty wages as it demands working late into the night, which makes it difficult to remain functioning members of their families and communities. SFWU member Allan Gaylard pointed out “I clean Parliament from mid-night to dawn, and I think a lot of these MPs do not know we exist. It is OK for John Key and Members of Parliament to say they will not get a pay rise this year, but they earn more than $130,000 with John Key earning $400,000, whereas I earn $12.55 an hour!”

The protest was a reasonably noisy affair, with the cleaners disrupting business as usual at Parliament by banging their placards with wooden spoons for around 20-30 minutes, followed by speeches from Union representatives, rank and file cleaners and Labour and Green Party politicians. The snug relationship between the unions and the Labour party was plain for all to see, with one Union rep claiming ‘everything will be alright once our friends are back in power’. Contempt for rank and file control couldn’t have been more striking.

But the irony of a system where the Prime Minister earns 100 times the hourly pay of the person forced to clean his office was also lost on no one, with John Key’s own personal cleaner suggesting he should ‘clean his own bloody office’. Of course those who have been forced to work late into the night cleaning up the mess of politicians who clearly couldn’t care less about them deserve far more than the miserable $2.12 increase being demanded by their union, ultimately they deserve control over their lives and their communities – nothing short of full emancipation.

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