The Cleaners’ Congress was held from the 31st of October – 1 November as an alternative to the exclusive ‘Property Congress’, hosted by the Property Council of Australia.
The elite event was sponsored by large shopping centre owner Stockland and featured another big shopping centre owner—Commonwealth Bank.
The Cleaners’ Congress brought together Clean Start shopping centre campaign activists from across Australia. Over the course of a few days, cleaners held eight actions to show the Property Congress that the Cleaners’ Congress is just as important—and that owners of shopping centres in Australia can’t hide from the issues; they need to take steps to improve cleaning in their industry.
Cleaners held a major demonstration on the first day, attended by over 200 supporters and fellow unionists. Cleaners were the centre point of it all. Nearly forty cleaning leaders from around the country and many more from NSW came together for the rally. The large rally was loud, colourful, brash, in your face and inventive, featuring an “I AM SOMEONE” art exhibit highlighting cleaners’ stories.
Uniquely, the event featured the Riff Raff Marching Band, who led the massive crowd around Town Hall, the major Property Congress venue, and then on to Sepia restaurant where a $3000 a head lunch with former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani was being held. To assist with the ambiance, and to remind the attendees that the cost of their lunch was more than a cleaner’s monthly salary, cleaners and supporters provided a musical and chanting accompaniment to lunch. This was followed by an action that night outside of a $2000 a head Gala Dinner so that the diners had to confront a rather less well dressed group of minimum waged workers on their way in to their big night out.
Day two featured a loud morning protest as attendees registered, and a second protest at the CommBank’s headquarters to remind the big bank that cleaners will be back. Day three of the Congress finished with leaflets being handed to the Women in Property Breakfast at 6.30 am – cleaners’ message got a really good response from every one of the women going inside. A parody of Stockland’s ESG profile was handed on the day directly to Stockland’s presenters, and it certainly got noticed!
Throughout the Property Congress, on the inside, various speakers declared their solidarity with the cleaners holding their own Congress on the outside. Notably Bob Brown came to talk to the cleaners and then as the delegates were leaving, linked arms with their guard of honour.
He was joined in supporting cleaners by a number of other high profile conference panellists and speakers.
Overall, the Cleaners’ Congress was a massive, exciting event which highlighted that shopping centre cleaners will continue their Clean Start campaign until healthy, safe shopping centres where cleaners are treated with respect and dignity are won. Cleaners, united, will never be defeated!