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‘We see you, and we hear you’: Downing Street protest for low-paid workers

The contempt for cleaners and security guards revealed by Sue Gray moved a trade union for the low-paid and migrants to disturb ‘wine time’

Anita Mureithi
27 May 2022, 10.40pm

Stark truth

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Anita Mureithi/openDemocracy

“Justice for Emanuel” rang outside the Downing Street gates this evening as demonstrators gathered to chant, grieve and protest against the poor treatment of security staff, cleaners and other low-paid government workers, exposed in the Sue Gray report.

They also remembered Emanuel Gomes, a cleaner at the Ministry of Justice, who died on 23 April 2020 after contracting COVID-19.

Despite falling ill, he continued to work his outsourced £9.08-an-hour job because he thought he couldn’t afford to take time off.

Protesters took turns to lay tea lights, flowers and pictures of Gomes on the street, while others held banners and placards.

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Cleaners and supporters gathered outside Downing Street demanding justice for Whitehall cleaner Emanuel Gomes, who died from covid while parties were held at Downing Street, and in protest against

In memory of Emanuel Gomes

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Vuk Valcic/Alamy Live News

Among them was Vincente Mendes, his cousin.

“The conditions that led to Emanuel's death continue at the Ministry of Justice. We continue to suffer. Fortunately we're with a trade union helping us fight back,” Mendes told protesters.

As his cousin was, Mendes is an cleaner at the ministry and a member of United Voices of the World (UVW), a trade union for low-paid, migrant and precarious workers.

The union, which organised the protest, called for better treatment of staff.

“We’ve got to make sure that they're not just able to go about their business and enjoy their white wine on a Friday afternoon like it was any other Friday afternoon,” one organiser said about Boris Johnson and his advisors.

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Security guards and other low-paid staff were laughed at by a government that didn’t care about their lives

“Shame on them,” said Mish Rahman, a member of Labour’s National Executive Committee who spoke at the protest.

“Today, this dictator prime minister has watered down the ministerial code. We’ve gone from proto-fascist and we’re accelerating quickly towards total dictatorship. We cannot accept this any more.”

Earlier today, changes to the ministerial code, which outlines the standards of conduct expected of government ministers, were published.

The code now says that ministers will no longer always have to quit if they break it. Lesser sanctions can be ordered instead.

Speaking to openDemocracy about today’s protest, Luis Eduardo Veintimilla, who works as a cleaner in a government building, and his wife, Stephanie Veintimilla, expressed their “disgust”.

In the height of the pandemic, Veintimilla was not given adequate PPE. He caught COVID-19, and so did his asthmatic wife. On top of this, “it was a hassle for him to get paid”.

“We are people and we have rights. [We] deserve to be respected,” they said.

Zack Polanski, a Green Party London Assembly member, also spoke at the demonstration. “This is so much bigger than party politics. This is essentially about human decency, “ he said.

“It's about people who are vulnerable, who are being low-paid, who don't feel like they have representation or a voice, who are not seen or not heard, being pitted against the powerful, who hold the wealth, who hold the levers of power, and have shown themselves to be corrupt.

“We have an integrity crisis, they cannot be trusted.

“But I want to say this, the workers are not not seen, and they are not not heard. We see you, and we hear you.”

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