On 6 and 7 August RMT members employed by Churchill to clean the Tyne and Wear Metro struck again for 48 hours.
The long-running dispute has now seen cleaners take five days of strike action.
They are demanding living wages (they are currently paid minimum wage, and have not been offered a pay rise for this year), free travel passes, access to a pensions scheme, and an end to victimisation.
The action on 6 and 7 August was described as rock solid. Workers also organised a lobby of Nexus, the Tyne and Wear transport authority (made up of local councillors).
The local anti-cuts network also continued its involvement in the campaign. They have organised a number of direct actions in solidarity with the dispute, including mass leafleting sessions, street parties, and other actions. Their role is a good example of how anti-cuts groups and working-class community campaigns can build solidarity with industrial struggles. For this strike, the networks distributed thousands of leaflets to each borough naming their local councillors on the transport authority, and urging residents to contact them and ask them to speak out for the cleaners.
Their silence has been deafening. While a number of local Labour MPs have signed an Early Day Motion in support of the cleaners, and while Dave Anderson (MP for Blaydon) visited recent picket lines, Labour councillors - including those on the authority - have said nothing.
Worse still, it appears managers from the authority and DB Regio (who won the contract to run the Metro and subcontracted cleaning to Churchills) are in fact helping to break the strike by doing cleaning work on strike days (and taking home much more money than the cleaners get).
It appears councillors and DB Regio fear that a victory for the cleaners could lead Churchills to walk away from the contract, forcing DB Regio or the council itself to directly employ the cleaners if another contractors cannot be found.
A recent Employment Tribunal for an RMT member sacked in the run up to the dispute found he had been unfairly dismissed and victimised. This will certainly give members a boost.
The campaign needs continued direct-action solidarity, as well as to develop links with workers on the Deutsch Bahn network in Germany. DB Region is a state-owned company which runs regional trains in Germany, where it has a history of subcontracting cleaning services to exploitative employers. It is also in the process of privatising the Berlin S-Bahn metro system which it runs. Workers in both countries could learn from and support each others’ struggles.
More strikes are planned, as well as a fundraising social on Friday 24 August, 7.30pm, at the Tyneside Irish Centre with bands and music. Contact 07740099479 for info.