Eight cleaners working on the Central Line face the sack after travelling to work at a station for which they had not been given tickets.
Unlike London Underground staff, cleaners on the Tube do not get provided with free travel across the network by the contractors they work for. They only get travelcards for the zones in which they are supposed to work. In this case, the workers were ordered to go and clean another station, out of their usual zone, but not provided with tickets to get there. When they were “caught” by ticket inspectors and“reported” to their employer, the result was disciplinary hearings and sackings.
The RMT, of which the workers are members, is organising a campaign to get them reinstated, and demanding that cleaners get the same free travel rights as other workers on the Tube. This is a fight that all activists must take up with vigour and determination.
Meanwhile, the TGWU has claimed credit for infrastructure company Metronet terminating its contract with cleaning firm Blue Diamond, after exposing that the latter had been withholding part of its cleaners' pay for four months. Having agreed a basic wage of £5.50 when it was awarded the contract for cleaning on the District, Circle, Metropolitan, Hammersmith & City and East London lines in October 2005, Blue Diamond has been paying the 400 cleaners only £5.05 an hour.
However, the T&G has been recruiting cleaners in competition with Tube workers’ union RMT, which already had members in Blue Diamond. And some workers feel that the T&G's campaign over the wages, whilst it won them a result, was organised "over their heads", directly with Metronet, without involving the cleaners. Jack Dromey may have won good media coverage, but while the T&G is getting membership forms in, there is very little evidence that it is organising cleaners into branches, or getting reps elected and trained.
Blue Diamond's appalling actions are further evidence, if more was needed, that contracting and subcontracting make it that much easier to attack workers' pay and conditions. The unions, both RMT and T&G, should take this opportunity to demand that all contracts are cancelled and all workers on the Tube employed directly by a unified, publicly-owned London Underground.
However, the workforce is weakened in its ability to do this by being divided into two different unions, which is the result of the T&G organising where RMT already had members. It seems unlikely that the T&G will campaign seriously for cleaning to be brought back in-house, since such a move would undermine its rationale for organising on the Tube - namely, that the cleaners are contract workers and not part of the rail network.
Both the RMT and the T&G have recruited significant numbers of cleaners in the recent period – but only the RMT has made a serious attempt to organise them. Cleaners need to be in a single union with other Tube workers if they are going to fight effectively.