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Cleaners’ Organizing in Britain from the 1970s: A Personal Account

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In the early 1970s the Women's Liberation Movement in Britain set out to unionize night cleaners. A long and intensive campaign resulted in two strikes and a greater awareness in the trade union movement about this neglected group of workers. But though the publicity generated by newspaper articles, meetings, and the making of two documentary films on cleaners focused attention on their conditions, organization proved very difficult. This was compounded by the economic and political climate from the late 1970s and the impact of privatization, which contributed to the growth in inequality in British society. This article outlines a disregarded history of attempts to organize cleaners, a history which is gaining a new‐found relevance in the wake of the “Justice for Janitors” campaign in the US and the awareness that low‐paid service work plays a key part in the global economy.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Discipline of Sociology, University of Manchester, Manchester UK;, Email:

Publication date: June 1, 2006

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