A maid goes undercover in a major London hotel.
Dorota looks back at me and then at the table.
‘Try it’ she says non-committally as if I can do it on my own. And gets up.
Every conversation I have here is time-limited. Breaks, starts, stops.
Filing downstairs to our duster, tea tray and rape alarm pick-up, I wait to be called.
I’m on a collective job again. The new wing. No one’s stayed in it yet but we need to clean it spotless because electricians and engineers have been in and dust’s accumulated.
The suites are massive and full of light with giant windows. We need to try all the taps and showers to makes sure they work and also report any knocking sound to maintenance. You can’t have guests paying £500+ per night and showering under shuddering, intermittent bursts of water and sound.
I’m with Adhira again. Red bull fuelled stress mission. She, like all of us, wants perfection, but she’s so anxious with it. All the more so because I’m the new girl, and she doesn’t want me to dent her excellence. Whatever we think of the job, you need to respect the fact people pay huge money for a clean, perfect room. You’d want that if you paid for it.
She and her 3-year-old daughter have a lot at stake in this job.
Organising in the workplace isn’t like any other political organising. In other contexts you might have your community behind you, a network in place. The threat is evident. Your home might be taken away by developers. Or you have a target, or external threat to eliminate. Could be environmental, could be housing or service related, but here, at work, it’s you and your body, up close that you’re fighting for.
So you want to be active now? On a temporary contract are you? You causing trouble? Sorry, it happens we’ve got no work for you tomorrow. Or the day after or….
Organising when your power is your labour and it’s constantly moving, with that of others, is so hard to harness. And if you ‘lose’ you lose not just your job, but the knock on effect is that you could lose your home, your means to survive, your sense of dignity, the community you live with if you have to move. No wonder the big stick of the sack works so well to discipline us. It’s only everything at stake.
We change the unslept in, perfect, but dusty King Size beds. Six of them before lunchtime. We shine the already shining chrome taps. We mark off the juddering tap sounds.
The broken hoover I use falls apart on me again and accidentally dents a brand new tortoiseshell, gleaming fridge cupboard. It’s a small mark but I’m horrified. No one’s seen it. I feel nauseous about this mark I’ve made in a room un-stayed in and how a VIP might spot it. How the supervisor might react when they check the room and see it, glaring. It wouldn’t have happened if the hoover was actually functional and not in pieces all the time held together with gaffer tape. It’s not my fault I tell myself as I carry on dusting.
Adhira manically looks at her watch in the lift. “We must to hurry. We also need to replace the cleaning fluid”.
“Hang on. We’ve got half an hour, we’ve got half an hour break time” I intervene.
“No! We are coming from the new wing, this takes time, the bottles, we don’t have the time”.
I shake my head and look at her sassily.
“ Are you telling me that I’m supposed to do all this other stuff, in My lunchbreak? I’m entitled to half an hour. We Need a Break”.
Adhira looks even more stressed. I’m telling her something incredulous.
“No. Half an hour. We Have half An Hour”, she asserts, fundamentally and looks away.
She puts our bottles outside the lift on the canteen floor and we go straight in to eat, not washing our hands because that takes time and will take us to the locker-room and then back here, cost us 5 minutes.
We sit at a table. Both of us with plates piled high. Tired. She takes her phone out and starts speaking angrily into it in Punjabi. I take mine out too so’s not to feel alone but there’s no reception. I look around at my fellow tired eaters.
A suggestion box sits at the end of the canteen under the mounted TV.
Suggestions. What can make your workplace better?
It makes me think of an organisation I saw an ad for downstairs. ‘Hospitality Action’. It’s a ‘Hospitality Industry Benevolent Organisation’. Their tag-line is ‘Helping Our People’. It was established four years after the end of slavery by the UK in 1837. Except slavery has just changed dimensions and definitions. If you need to go through this, sell the majority of your time and energy, just to eat, just to sleep, just to feed your children, just to get a roof over your head and clothes on your back and not much else. What is that?
‘Hospitality Action’ were paternalistic then, and paternalistic now. They offer help for essential items such as food, equipment and central heating. They’ve even got a a helpline for workers suffering from depression and debt. Debt. Why would we, on £6.50 per hour, in London, possibly be in debt?…Working 9 hours a day, travelling three, barely seeing our loved ones, why might we be depressed?
It’s a classic case of charity not solidarity. Power in their hands, none in ours. Anything to avoid paying the Living Wage and Unions..
We’ve got fifteen minutes to eat because we need to fill our bottles and the diamond wing is so far.
I feel like crying.
I narrow my eyes.
Is it time for some hospitality Direct Action?
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