Tube cleaners have won the ‘London living wage’. The intense months of building a 99% yes vote, the first strike days in June/July, picketing, protesting, and planning more strikes in late August have paid off. The dispute has died down to talks over details, but is not over.
It was a historic dispute: the first time mostly migrant workers have taken strike action on a large scale. It was well supported on the first days, with solid strikes in many depots, and even agency workers joining the union and the picket.
As soon as cleaners stood up for themselves, employers suddenly questioned their right to work. A few leading activists were sacked; two have been deported and one is still in detention. Protesters occupied the offices of ISS and GBM to expose these practices, but RMT's response has been inadequate. We cannot organise mainly undocumented migrant workers to strike without a strategy to defend illegal workers against the employers' union-bashing tactics.
The final strikes were to coincide with strikes by TubeLines engineers, which would have had a huge impact on the Tube service. The threat of action forced TubeLines to talk to RMT over cleaners' pay. This shows the power of cleaners being in the only all-grades union on the railway.
It would have been good to see drivers and station staff using health and safety law to close unclean stations or refusing to cross picket lines. The Eurostar cleaners’ strike on August bank holiday Monday showed how to build such solidarity. After voting 100% for strikes, OCS cleaners held 30-strong pickets at the Eurostar depot. Engineers refused to cross the picket lines, a tremendous example of how an all-grades union should work.