The story of the University of London’s cleaners ought to be a modern Made in Dagenham. Immigrant women were scraping a living on a poverty wage from an employer who wanted them to clean up other people’s mess and get out of sight when they’d finished. They fought back and, in a rare uplifting moment in these dismal times, won. They forced the university to raise their pay from £6.15 to £8.80 an hour and give them decent holidays and sickness leave.
But no one will make a film about the university cleaners because it lacks the prime ingredient for a feelgood story: a happy ending. Instead, their experience tells a more hypocritical tale about the British attitude to immigrants. Public opinion is set against them. But for all the outrage, Britain still wants foreigners’ money, and employers and the middle and upper classes still want foreigners’ labour – as long as it is cheap and as long as the workers do as they are told and do not make a fuss.