Cleaners: The Fightback Has Begun

Submitted by Tubeworker on Thu, 19/06/2008 - 20:22

RMT cleaners have voted by a massive 99+% for strikes, with a very creditable turnout of 40%. For comparison, this is a significantly better majority and turnout than for the LUL casualisation ballot earlier this year.

There will be a 24-hour strike starting with the night shifts on Thursday 26 June, and a 48-hour strike starting with night shifts on Tuesday 1 July.

This superb vote is a result of both the hard work of activists and the genuine anger of cleaners at poverty pay and appalling working conditions. This vote has proved wrong those people who thought that cleaners were ‘too hard’ to unionise, could not stomach industrial action, or that a largely migrant and/or female workforce was too weak to fight back.

These ‘difficult to organise workers’ are now taking on the might of the multi-nationals, proving that not only is it possible to fight big capital, but that even the most vulnerable workers can do it. The cleaners’ readiness to fight should be an inspiration to all workers in all grades.

The cleaners’ dispute is for a ‘London living wage’ of £7.20 per hour, plus holidays, sick pay, pensions and an end to ‘third party sackings’. But it is also about something more fundamental: our right to respect and dignity at work. The cleaning contractors behave like slave owners, bullying and exploiting their workers. Cleaners are saying “We are not slaves.”

Cleaners know that this could become a historic battle. As workers, we know what we want and our destiny is in our own hands. We just need to organise effectively enough and we will win.

On the strike days, we will be picketing major workplaces. RMT cleaners will be solid, and we will also be asking T&G members to join the strike, since their union, disgracefully, is sitting out this fight. We want London Underground operational staff to think about whether their train or station is safe to be in passenger service if it is not clean. Remember that spillages cause falls and that build-up of litter is a fire hazard.

We also plan rallies, meetings and protests in support of the strike. Importantly, cleaners need and deserve financial support from the union to get through the hardship of the strike – every worker and supporter can chip in to help this happen.

Tubeworker will be producing a special issue next week looking in more depth at the issues involved in this dispute and the strategies that can lead to victory. Take out a subscription to ensure that you get your copies.

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