Socialist Worker

Migrant workers in unions: ‘We are on strike for respect’

by Matthew Cookson
Issue No. 2108

London tube cleaners taking strike action last week

London tube cleaners taking strike action last week

The current dispute by cleaners on London Underground shows the reality of a migrant workforce that keeps Britain running and that is fighting for decent pay and working conditions.

Around 700 of the mainly migrant workers in the RMT rail workers’ union struck for 24 hours from Thursday of last week.

Clara, an RMT rep, told Socialist Worker, “We are paid around £5.50 an hour and we are demanding the London living wage of £7.20 an hour. We are nearly all migrant workers and we are being exploited and bullied.

“It is really disgusting that this is happening under a Labour government.

“But this is not just a dispute about money. It’s also about dignity for cleaners.

“We do a vital job and are treated like we are nobodies, looked down upon and regarded as the lowest of the low.

“We are also asking for full sick pay, which we are not entitled to, even though many of the illnesses and the injuries we receive are as a result of work.

“Our health and safety is being undermined. Some cleaners had to clean up vomit and bodily fluids without adequate protective clothing.

“I came to Britain from Nigeria in 1993 and got a job on the tube. The cleaning services were in-house back then and things were much better. We had all the benefits of other tube workers, such as a free travelcard.

“Now we have none of those benefits. We have to pay the tube fares to come to work to clean the tubes. Our standard of living has gone down and the abuse has gone up.

“The cleaning companies are driven by profit.”

The workers, who are employed by the ISS, ITC, ICS and GBM contractors, voted by over 99 percent for action over the issues. They were also set to strike for 48 hours from 6.50pm on Tuesday of this week.

The cleaners are demanding 28 days’ holiday, decent pensions, travel facilities and the right to sick pay.

They also want an end to the practice of “third-party sackings” which mean that cleaners can be dismissed, with no disciplinary hearing or right of appeal, at the behest of parties other than the employer.

RMT members from other workplaces joined strikers outside Euston station on Thursday evening.

A striking GBM worker told Socialist Worker, “People are finding it very hard to get by with inflation going up all the time. We need a living wage, pensions, a travelcard. We need some respite from the decisions of management.

“The cleaning companies don’t want to pay the living wage. We don’t even have a mess room where we can eat.

“They don’t care about us or want to do anything for us. That’s why we are fighting for respect.”

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