Student cleaning
A student on cleaning duty at Tel Aviv University. Photo by Courtesy
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As they do every day, hundreds of janitors arrived at Tel Aviv University before dawn yesterday. But as they took out their tools and prepared to begin work, they were greeted by a crowd of some 40 students. The students told them that in honor of May Day, yesterday would be “upside down”: The students would clean, and the janitors would rest.

Some found it difficult to believe the students would indeed replace them for the morning shift, but they were eventually persuaded to hand over the buckets, mops and brooms to the students, who proceeded to clean classrooms, hallways and restrooms in the university’s eight buildings.

“While we worked, the cleaners took a rest, talked and got to know each other,” said Noam Forrer, a political science student and head of the Student Union’s academic department. “They would check in on us to see we didn’t do too much damage. Except for one broken squeegee, our shift worked out spectacularly.”

About a year and a half ago, the university changed its cleaning contractor and about 100 janitors faced dismissal. Aided by the students, the janitors embarked on a struggle that ended in victory: They retained their jobs, received the wages and social benefits to which they were entitled, and their union was recognized by the university.

The Student Union said yesterday that the “upside down day” was meant to show support for the janitors and their devoted daily work. Dalia Iven, one of the janitors, said, “it’s fun to see those lovely students taking care of us. We are very happy our struggle succeeded.”

After three hours of work, the students put down their cleaning supplies and handed each janitor a red rose and sweets from the humanities faculty’s cafeteria. Student Union spokeswoman Ayelet Arieli said she thinks the initiative will catch on in other universities as well.