As Tubeworker reported on 17 November, RMT is planning to ballot its members working for Interserve on the BCV (Bakerloo, Central,and Victoria Lines) contract for strikes..
The dispute mirrors a dispute involving Interserve cleaners at Waterloo mainline station (for more, see here).
BCV cleaning workers have faced a series of injustices since the contract was transferred from Initial to Interserve. A union statement described a "'below the radar' culture of harassment at Interserve with management and supervisors abusing their power over staff. Staff are pushed about on a daily basis and are regularly relocated with no notice or consultation."
Workers also face non-payment of wages. RMT said: "Interserve has a dreadful record of payroll errors such as underpaying staff or even not paying them at all.
"We have examples where staff were deducted pay without any notice and then Interserve somehow lose the money they have taken. We suspect there is either a serious problem in their payroll systems or that supervisors are interfering and causing the problem. In most cases, staff are only made aware there is a problem when they receive their payslips and the figure is lower than expected.
"Our concerns were discussed at a meeting with the directors but they made little attempt to listen and recognise the problems with their own systems."
Interserve are also victimising individual reps, with managers going after senior rep Alex Boachie for his role in organising against these injustices.
A timetable for the ballot has not yet been announced. Cleaners will need support from union activists in other grades to help them organise. Cleaning is a difficult grade to organise, as many workers are employed by agencies rather than directly by the cleaning companies themselves. Cleaning companies have also been known to use workers' immigration statuses against them, and have had cleaners deported effectively as retribution for union organising. RMT will need to ensure the strength of workers in more "stable" grades is mobilised to protect our brothers and sisters working for Interserve.
A solid cleaners' strike might not shut down the Tube, but it could cause havoc on BCV stations. Imagine a busy shopping day at Oxford Circus with no cleaners to clean up rubbish on the platform or in the ticket hall. A build-up of rubbish could represent a significant safety hazard and could even force stations to close.
Cleaners are undoubtedly amongst the most exploited workers on the job, facing hardships and injustices that workers in other grades rarely ever have to deal with. The RMT's strength as an all-grades, industrial union must be mobilised to facilitate effective struggle, including by collecting hardship funds to allow low-paid cleaners to take sustained industrial action if necessary.
There are still snobbish and elitist attitudes towards cleaners from some workers, including, sadly, within the union. The separation of cleaning into a separate grade and its outsourcing to private companies has helped embed this. The union needs to fight these attitudes.
RMT branches need to help their cleaner members recruit and organise amongst their colleagues so the ballot, and hopefully the consequent strike, can be as solid as possible.