OPEN 2019 joins IWGB boycott of University of London in solidarity with workers

The exploitation of temporary, freelance and out-sourced workers is a serious issue.

As companies get bigger and more powerful, and operate through platforms which distance them from their stakeholders it is getting easier for them to abuse their workers.

This abuse manifests in a number of ways but one which is very close to our hearts is the way that full time workers that support an organisation are forced to engage with their employer as ‘temporary’ or ‘freelance’ staff, stripping them of all the rights they would normally have as an employee.

At our conference in 2017, The Open Co-op hosted Mags Dewhurst who, with the help of the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain, won a case against their employer City Sprint Couriers and changed the game for hundreds of exploited workers.

CitySprint’s contractual arrangements were described as “contorted”, “indecipherable” and “window-dressing”, and sadly this practice continues today at other organisations.

We never expected such exploitative behaviour from the University of London. So we were shocked and dismayed when we discovered the venue we had selected for our OPEN 2019 Community Gathering, at Student Central, is one of the venues being targeted by a boycott call for by the out-sourced workers of the IWGB.

The boycott by the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain – University of London Branch has already had its successes, with some campuses changing the way they employ their cleaning and security staff, by bringing them “in house”. This means they benefit from health care, proper holiday entitlements and all the other benefits which come from being “employed”.

But other campuses, including University of London central administration, have not budged on the issue and continue to force some workers to accept freelance status. The large proportion of these workers are black and minority ethnic, making the situation seem even more exploitative.

Because of this The Open Co-op no longer felt comfortable working with the University Of London – and took the decision to change venues.

We stand in solidarity with all workers, everywhere, especially those on the lower rungs of the ladder that are often the most exploited by our present, extractive economy.

It would not be right to run an event about building the collaborative, regenerative economy at a venue which exploits its workers! So we are proud to announce that this year the Open Gathering will be held in the event space at Tech City College in-between Angel and Old street.

We have some excellent lightning talks lined up about all aspects of building a collaborative regenerative economy and we welcome everyone who is interested in building a new world in which people and planet come before profit.

Please join us and put your suggestions forward to help define the agenda in a truly collaborative, democratic way as we use dotmocracy to define the open space sessions and tackle the question: How can we support each other to take more effective action to catalyse the collaborative, regenerative economy?

Places are limited so if you would like to be involved please book your ticket now.


In December 2018, after 1.5 years of campaigning and more than 17 days of strikes, cleaners and Security at the University of London decided to call a boycott of University of London Central Administration due to the refusal of the University to negotiate and commit to end outsourcing.

Since the launch of the Boycott, more than 35 Senate House seminars and 180 events have relocated in support of the boycott and 500 academics have individually pledged solidarity. In addition, 23 UCU branches have passed motions of support.

Furthermore UCU Congress overwhelmingly passed the boycott motion, which means that it is now official UCU policy NOT to attend or organise any events at the central University of London administration buildings (essentially Senate House, Stewart House, Student Central, the Warburg Institute and the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (Charles Clore House)) until all outsourced workers have been brought in-house.

  • The reason the boycott motion was brought to Congress is that while the in-house campaign has forced the University to commit to the principle of in-housing:
  •  only 10% of workers have been brought in-house.
  •  current plans are so vague that all the rest are promised are ‘reviews’, some of which will not even occur until 2021.
  •  there are no guarantees that any of these 90%, including all the cleaners, catering staff and majority of security will ever be brought in.
  •  furthermore, as we outline in more detail below, the University has launched an unprecedented crackdown on the workers and their union.

The University and the outsourced companies have not just REFUSED all offers of talks with the workers and their union, the IWGB – they have responded by attacking trade union rights at the University of London and increasing discrimination against outsourced workers.

First they threatened the branch secretary of the IWGB with disciplinary action for attending a seminar to talk about the boycott.

Second, cleaning company Cordant Services introduced a draconian new sickness phone-in policy JUST for cleaners – rather than reporting to managers / supervisors they were now expected to call a centralised number for ALL absences or face disciplinary action. There was just one catch – most of the cleaners speak little or no English – but no-one in the call centre speaks anything but.

Third, Cordant Security refused trade union representation to migrant worker security staff at the University – hiring EXTRA security to physically block entry to a meeting to the IWGB representative.

This is all happening at University of London Central – and all in response to the lowest-paid and most vulnerable workers in the building asking to be treated equally.

Find out more and follow the campaign at:

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