The entrance to St Pancras International station in central London was a riot of colourful union flags, chanting and dancing from 6am on Bank Holiday Monday.
Workers who clean the plush Eurostar trains were striking for better pay and conditions following a 100 percent vote for action.
The over 100 mainly migrant workers in the RMT transport union struck at both St Pancras and Temple Mills in north east London – where there was also a big and lively picket.
Instead of a normal day of backbreaking work, the cleaners spent the day on the picket lines letting their managers know just what they think of the way they are treated.
OCS, the company contracted to clean the Eurostar trains, pay the workers just £6.37 an hour. The cleaners are demanding the London living wage of £7.45 an hour and OCS is refusing to pay this.
The strike saw solidarity from other Eurostar workers, with engineers and others refusing to cross the picket lines.
Workers were clamouring to tell Socialist Worker about the low pay and terrible treatment they face at the company.
One striker said, ‘We don’t get any extra bank holiday pay or sick pay, no pensions, travel allowance or days in lieu.’
‘Sometimes we work from eight in the morning to four in the afternoon without having time to eat,’ another cleaner added. ‘People can’t afford to pay their rent. In winter we have nowhere to keep warm and we have to clean the platforms in the freezing cold.’
One worker told Socialist Worker, ‘I have been here for ten months and am so stressed out by the work and managers that I have lost loads of weight.’
‘We clean really disgusting things up such as food waste and babies’ nappies,’ another striker said. ‘We should be getting fair pay for that.’
‘Management won’t listen to us,’ a striker added. ‘They are increasing the pressure on workers because they want to win back the contract for cleaning the trains, which is coming up for renewal.’
A Eurostar cleaner based at Temple Mills told Socialist Worker, ‘It was very good here with 40 people on the picket lines. It was really helpful that the engineers supported us.
‘We hope to get something better from the company as the strike affects Eurostar as well as OCS.’
Mohamed Yellow, the RMT rep for the cleaners at St Pancras, told Socialist Worker, ‘We asked OCS for £7.45 an hour at a meeting we had last week.
‘It refused to pay that but said it would give us £6.75 an hour until April. We asked for £7 until April and it said no.
‘Moreover, we need sick pay, bonuses, pensions and travel allowances. Some of the managers don’t treat the staff well. Every day I have calls from workers telling me their managers are bullying them, saying they have to do something or they will be sent home.
‘These people are not slaves. We have human rights and freedom of speech. Without the cleaners the trains cannot move.
‘We are all proud to be in the union. Unless OCS give us the money and our freedom we will continue with our strike.’
The cleaners are now to step up their campaign to embarrass Eurostar, which is allowing OCS, a major company in its own right, to pay such low wages to its cleaners.
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