Cleaners in the RMT union working on London Underground are preparing to ballot for strikes. A cleaning worker and union rep spoke to the Tubeworker bulletin about the dispute:
“Tube cleaners have been campaigning for many years against injustice. We’re fighting for dignity, and equal conditions in our workplaces. Currently we have no company sick pay, which means cleaners who get sick are forced to come to work or face financial hardship. And we also have no free travel passes, unlike directly-employed staff working on the railway.
“The biggest demand we are fighting for is direct employment, for cleaning to be brought in house. I don’t consider myself an ABM cleaner. I am a TfL cleaner, I am a London Underground cleaner. ABM will probably go in a few years, some other contractor will come along. But we are doing the same work, cleaning London Underground. We should be employed directly.
“There’s hasn’t been industrial action for several years; union members amongst cleaners have been waiting for this dispute for a long time. People were asking, ‘when are we going to have a real fight?’ Non-members have also been enthused by the announcement that we’re planning to ballot. Since the decision was announced, I’ve personally recruited six people. Cleaners want to join because they see us preparing for a strike.
“We’re not planning to strike simply because we’re pissed off. Action is an essential organising tool. A union is only as strong as its membership. By taking action, we build the union. We need support and guidance from the rest of RMT. Many cleaners have English as a second language and may not know their legal rights. Some feel scared and isolated. The wider union can provide us with direction and information to help us build the dispute, and support us when we take action. We need to be honest with members about what it will take to win.
“We have been making good links with other unions organising cleaners, such as the IWGB. We have attend picket lines and demonstrations with them, and we’ve been sharing ideas and tactics at events coordinated by the New Economics Foundation. It’s good to meet cleaners from universities and hospitals and discuss what we have in common. We’re part of the union movement so should support each other. If they strike, they know RMT members will have their back, and vice versa.
“Our voice is bigger if we combine, so unions organising outsourced workers to demand direct employment should join together in common campaigns.”