(Featured image via United Voices of the World.)

The Metropolitan Police were called yesterday by St George's, University of London, a specialist medical college, in order to disrupt a peaceful picket by striking, outsourced security staff.

According to a press release by the university, the striking workers, members of the grassroots trade union United Voices of the World (UVW), had been asked to move their picket outside the university boundaries as the land was owned by the NHS Trust. After refusing to do so, and conducting the picket within the boundaries of the university, the police were called.

According to UVW, a senior union official, Franck Magennis, was arrested by police after questioning the legal basis of their order to leave university property 'within five minutes'. Mr Magennis is a barrister with Garden Court Chambers, and head of UVW's legal department. He was then de-arrested by police, on the condition he would leave the area.

UVW's head of legal Franck Magennis being placed under arrest. Photo courtesy of UVW.

Mr Magennis said:

If my false imprisonment goes unchallenged, that would allow the Metropolitan Police to criminalise what is lawful civil activity, and would have a chilling effect on workers’ ability to stand up to bosses and exercise their civil liberties. Anyone concerned with a worker’s right to take industrial action, and with a citizen’s right not to be arbitrarily arrested, should be seriously concerned about the way the police have acted today. Workers should be allowed to go on strike without being threatened with arrest. This is an outrage.

Mr Magennis is understood to be pursuing legal action against the Metropolitan Police, represented by Susie Labinjoh, of Hodge Jones & Allen solicitors. She said: 'We will be looking at all legal avenues to ensure that the police are held to account, that trade union members are not criminalised for going on strike, and that people are not arbitrarily arrested.'

The security staff are on strike at St George's over 'second-class contracts' provided by outsourcing giant Noonan. The workers are paid less than the lowest-paid in-house staff and only receive the statutory minimum in sick pay and other conditions. They number 25, and the majority of them are BAME. UVW has supported a number of campaigns to support outsourced workers since it was created in 2014. It has also been active in holding higher education institutions to account, and has supported and led campaigns at LSE, KCL, SOAS, and Goldsmiths.

During the recent strike at Lancaster by the University and College Union (UCU), members they were asked to move their picket at the pelican crossing on Bigforth Drive up to Bigforth Barn. Dr Julie Hearn, branch president, informed picketers that they would not be doing so as the position by Bigforth Barn was deemed to be far more unsafe. Paul Boustead, the University's head of HR, was seen discussing on the picket with senior branch officials on the first day of the strike, but the University relented after it became clear UCU would not move.

Other UCU branches were less fortunate. In a move similar to St George's, picketers at the University of Birmingham were told that the University is 'private land' and anyone caught picketing would be trespassing. Spineless fears the worst for labour rights under the new Conservative government, which pledged in its manifesto to 'require that a minimum service operates during transport strikes.'