The RMT’s campaign to organise cleaners on the underground is gaining strength, and more and more, it is being directed by the cleaners themselves. Last month, the RMT cleaners elected a committee of cleaners who will run their organising campaign — a real step towards the cleaners taking control of their own organisation.
New cleaner reps have been trained, with a sound grasp of industrial issues, and how to fight cases. A successful cleaners’ recruitment week last month signed up station staff as well as cleaners. Their determination to go out and organise is setting an example that drivers and station staff accross the rest of the RMT would do well to follow.
The support of members on the stations and trains is still essential, however. A major problem is the lack of cleaning staff , leaving cleaners to work as many as six stations in one shift. Local RMT branches are starting to build links between local reps and cleaner activists. If local reps push their management on issues such as the cleanliness of the stations, they will be part of the fight for more cleaning staff. They will also encourage resistance amongst the cleaners, by being ready to support cleaners who refuse to do their excessive workload.
Plans for a cleaners strike’ in the new year are still going ahead. Both unions that organise cleaners, the T&G and the RMT, have written to all the cleaning companies, demanding £7.20 an hour, sick pay, and a travel allowance. When the cleaning companies refuse, as they will almost certainly do, the unions will be in official dispute. Many cleaners are hungry for the chance to take action and prove how essential their undervalued work really is. 18 November was the 20th anniversary of the Kings Cross fire, largely caused by a build-up of litter. When cleaners strike, other grades will hopefully show solidarity by closing stations and refusing to drive trains on health and safety grounds. The Underground is not safe to run without cleaners.