|Issue No 99||15 June 2001|
By Andrew Casey
Bread and Roses is a new movie about the struggle of invisible office cleaners to gain dignity and respect at work. Pity you won't see it here.
It is running right now in cinemas throughout the USA, Canada, the UK and Europe but don't expect to see it soon in Australia because our cinema people reckon you can't make a buck out of a movie about cleaners.
The people who have the international distribution rights for the film - The Sales Co based in the London theatre district of Shaftesbury Ave - have hit a wall with all our cinema chains.
Joy Wong, who is responsible for selling the film to the world, told Workers-On-Line that she has been trying to get a bite from an Australian cinema chain for months.
" No one in your country has shown one peep of interest. No one seems to think a great story about cleaners will make a dollar in Sydney, or Melbourne or anywhere in Australia."
The film, by Ken Loach, has received outstanding reviews at Cannes 2000 and won best foreign film at the Rio de Janeiro Film Festival. The London Guardian, The Observer and the LA Times have all raved about the film.
The story is fictional, but it is based on the inspirational real-life story of the Los Angeles cleaners
( they call them janitors in the USA) who beat the odds to win better lives through joining the union running the Justice for Janitors campaign.
In fact today ( Friday) is International Justice for Janitors day. Right around the world unions representing cleaners in office blocks, schools and factories held rallies, concerts, marches and ran some media stunts to promote international solidarity between cleaning workers.
In London - to coincide with the launch of Bread and Roses - a campaign has been launched to improve the pay and conditions of cleaners in the public sector.
The focus of the international campaign is immigrants' rights as cleaners in modern office blocks - whether you are in LA, Montreal, London, Paris, Brussels, Rome or Sydney - are almost inevitably made up of the latest wave of migrants to the big metropolis.
Gandhi MacIntyre, a member of the Australian cleaners' union, the LHMU, knows why it is important to be a cleaning union member: " I left Sri Lanka in 1984 and came to Australia. I was glad I found out about and joined the LHMU 'cause I know that there are other cleaners in this country forced to work for bad pay and bad conditions because they are on AWAs and don't have the protection of an Award.
Ironically when Gandhi MacIntyre is not in his day job as a commercial office cleaner in the Sydney CBD he works on the side as an actor, having starred in a variety of Australian films and TV shows.
He has starred alongside Nicole Kidman in Bangkok Hilton, in the recent Sample People as well as on TV shows such as All Saints, Embassy and Misery Guts.
In Australia the LHMU Cleaning Union spent today promoting their role in defending migrant workers' rights with activity in Sydney and Melbourne.
A rally of more than 60 cleaners assembled outside the head office of the French-owned multinational finance company AXA Australia where the LHMU has been in disputes for several months over the cutting of wages and conditions of our members.
The LHMU has received great support in this campaign from union activists working at AXA's head office in France.
Cleaners refuse to keep being an invisible army of workers in office buildings, schools and industrial estates.
" Too often shonky cleaning contractors rely on ethnic communities, especially new waves of migrants, to play vital roles cleaning our workplaces - but they want to keep these workers invisible, quiet and ignorant of their rights," the NSW LHMU Executive Vice-President, Sonia Minutillo, said.
Shonky cleaning contractors
" These shonks, often fly-by-night backyard operators, take full advantage of recent arrivals and just don't comply with minimum Award standards.
" They're happy to scour ethnic communities for their workforce because they hope that a workforce made up especially of new immigrants, unaware of their Award rights, won't complain and will accept the harsh working conditions.
" In many countries a large number of cleaning workers are immigrants who do not yet enjoy their full rights in their new societies where they live and work," the LHMU's Sonia Minutillo said.
" Often these new residents are worried about exercising their full rights because of the abuse and exploitation they have suffered at the hands of employers in the past.
" For these workers joining the LHMU, and organising their workmates and other members of their communities into our union, becomes the primary way to improve their lives and sometimes escape their poverty.
" They often tell the union it was a liberating powerful experience to know they could join a trade union and stand up for their rights.
" In this city the LHMU Cleaning Union has won in some workplaces the right to English-at-Work classes and run out-reach programs to ethnic communities.
" Our members have the right to expect respect when they clean the offices, schools and industrial estates of our city," LHMU Executive Vice President, Sonia Minutillo, said.
Interview: In Defence of the Umpire
Australian Industry Group chief Bob Herbert on why the Industrial Relations Commission is worth fighting for.
Unions: Diary of a Dude
One.Tel worker Warren Manners thought he had a dream job and no need for a union. That was until the money ran out.
Legal: Dot.Com Casualties
The high profile collapse of One.Tel had significant implications for its employees. But what about its contractors?
Industrial: The Shopfloor, United
Chris Christodoulou argues that without an active union membership, workplace democracy is just a pipe dream.
International: A Saharawi Woman's Plea
Sydney unionist Stephanie Brennan travelled to Africa to witness first-hand the struggle for independence in West Sahara.
History: Once Were Tuckpointers
Trawling through the files, Paul Howes stumbles upon some unions that represented workers long departed.
Politics: Out Of The Comfort Zone
In his new book, Brett Evans argues that while Labor is honing its reform agenda, it is still struggling to reform itself.
Satire: World Domination
The US has threatened not to pay the UN the money it doesn’t pay anyway.
Review: Wiped Out
Bread and Roses is a new movie about the struggle of invisible office cleaners to gain dignity and respect at work. Pity you won’t see it here.
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Last Modified: 15 Nov 2005