globalisation, migrant labour, values and worth

In a 2014 interview one of the SOAS cleaners who has been employed on campus for 18 years, said in comparison to the other college staff like lecturers, the cleaners were treated as if they “came from another planet” [1].


In part, this is because of their job and how it is perceived but it is also due to the people who carry out the roles. They are, of course, not from another planet but the vast majority are from another part of the planet to the UK – mostly from South American countries like Colombia and Ecuador.


Immigrants will always face difficulties when trying to start new lives. Language is a two-way barrier. Not being able to fluently speak or write restricts the level participation a new arrival can have. At the same time, hearing but not being able to understand new voices can fuel suspicions of immigrants.


For both of these reasons, limited communication often means that new arrivals work in what are seen as low value jobs. Or, at least, this is the image that is commonly portrayed in the media. In fact, many economic migrants to the UK work in areas such as health and science, for example 26% of new doctors are from overseas.


The vast majority of cleaners at SOAS are from abroad, which when we look back to representations of similar jobs from 30 to 40 years ago such as The Nightcleaners, is a significant change. Another transformation is that more and more men are now working in a field that was once exclusively female. Perhaps this is part of the reason for the increased public demands for employment rights?



[1] Critical Legal Thinking (2014) ‘“We are not from another planet”: Justice 4 Cleaners Campaign and the Struggle for Recognition’