London’s busy Leicester Square was the scene on Saturday for a picket organised by the IWW London general membership branch with the support of the Angry Language Brigade. The Leicester Square School of English (LSSE) was closed down over the Christmas period leaving workers out of work and out of pocket.
Workers decided to occupy the workplace in the hope of getting the money that they’re owed in unpaid wages, holiday pay and redundancy. Whilst they were there a group of students arrived expecting to be taught English only to find that the school had closed. The bosses had taken their money and not told them they were closing the school down. The workers have helpfully provided information for any students that turn up in future.
Whereas Leicester Square normally throngs to the sound of tourists and movie goers, simply enjoying one of the world’s major cities, on Saturday the noise came from a lively IWW picket singing Solidarity Forever, chanting and making speeches. Many passers-by stopped to get information and understand the struggle of the workers involved.
The sacked workers still actually have access to the building and so I was invited to take a look inside the old workplace. It was an eerie experience. I was struck by the cold and damp feel in the air. I tried to imagine the empty waiting room full of students or people just enquiring information on courses. That would have been the scene just a few weeks ago.
Staff notices hung on the wall advertising the emergency number that’s now out of use. Naturally the workers tried ringing it to see if they would get paid.
There was also a policy document on harrassment and how to deal with issues in the workplace. This is ironic considering that the owner, Craig Tallents, has since gone to ground and refuses to answer emails. The twitter feed of another of his business interests, Asparagus Consulting, has since been taken down but before it disappeared the workers observed a tweet declaring: “How to keep your employees happy? Treat them as a person with a mind and body and something to offer.” Tallents should take his own advice.
In the main office there was evidence of panic in the final moments of this business. Office equipment lay strewn across desks and on the floor.
The telephone handles had been cut from the receivers.
Several computers had been gutted and an invoice from a shredding company dated for mid December was found. A note from the manager requesting that the cleaner cut all the phone cords was also found. I got the sense that management were not just taking the things they wanted; they were also hiding things that they didn’t want others to see.
The weekly schedules are a poignant reminder of the work that went on here. People arrive in London from all over the world for fun or work and English lessons are a vital service for them. There are many schools like this former one in central London offering people a chance to get on in a city where English can be a vital lifeline.
We found a scribbled note from the cleaner simply asking the bosses to ring him to confirm that he will be paid what he is owed. We haven’t been able to contact him but if he wants to join the fight to get what has been stolen by the bosses he should contact the IWW in London as soon as possible.
This was clearly a business in trouble for some time. I have seen two other documents that have not been presented here relating to the finances of the company. The first is a summons to appear at Westminster Magistrates Court over non-payment of rates. That summons requests an immediate payment of £12,575 and calls on the individual concerned to appear at the court on 10th December 2014. The second is a bill for renting the workplace and that amounts to a due balance of £147,625.82. From this we can deduce that this business was failing for some time and that Craig Tallents was not keeping his staff, his customers or his suppliers fully informed of the situation. However, as explained above, Tallents also has other business interests and it is reasonable to expect him to pay the sacked workers what he owes them in resolving this mess.
The picket was a success in terms of turn out and raising awareness of the actions of Craig Tallents. However, there is still much to do to get the monies that are owed safely to the workers. Further action is being planned and will be communicated shortly.