By Sam Ord
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2793

Solidarity boosts biggest ever rail cleaners’ strike

Some workers who share the cleaners' sites walked out unofficially
Issue 2793
30 smiling cleaners on strike with red RMT union flags and yellow placards

Striking rail cleaners at a rally in central London (Pic: Guy Smallman)

In the largest ever rail cleaners’ strike, hundreds of mostly migrant workers employed by outsourcing company Churchill walked out across London and south east England on Wednesday. They are fighting for a minimum wage of £15 an hour and better conditions.

The cleaners, members of the RMT union, won widespread support. In a tremendous show of solidarity, not one worker went in at Temple Mills International depot in east London which serves Eurostar. Engineering staff—who had not been balloted to strike—joined the picket line.

Striker Serwaa, who is based at Victoria station in, London told Socialist Worker, “I’m glad my people are finally standing up for us. Working through the pandemic was terrible, we had no rest and were forced to come into work.

Churchill was given more contracts, but we got no additional pay or bonuses. We got nothing to risk our life—bosses got big bonuses.”

Speaking of their demands she added, “We keep the trains going and are treated unfairly.

“We deserve £15 an hour and free travel as well.” Strikers are also calling for the same sick pay as people employed directly by the train companies.

In a survey conducted by the RMT, 69 percent of Churchill’s rail cleaners reported that they have gone into work while sick because they couldn’t afford not to.

30 strikers, mostly black people, with fists raised at Temple Mills deport in east London where engineers refused to cross a cleaners' picket line

Solidarity at Temple Mills International depot—engineers refused to cross a rail cleaners’ picket line (Pic: Alan Kenny)

At a rally outside the houses of parliament, around 100 cleaners were joined by MPs including Jeremy Corbyn and other trade unions including the CWU, GMB, UVW and IWGB.

Churchill cleaner and strike organiser Bella, told Socialist Worker, “We’re not going to let them bully us anymore. We are going to continue fighting for £15 an hour, and we’re going to get it.

“We have found strength in our unity, and I hope to see everyone back on the picket lines in the future.”

The Cleaners & Allied Independent Workers Union (Caiwu), which represents Churchill cleaners outsourced to Facebook in London was also at the rally.

Caiwu general secretary Alberto Durango told Socialist Worker, “Today is an important show of solidarity. Because the RMT is on strike, our Churchill members won a small victory. 

“Yesterday bosses gave good conditions to workers. There used to be just nine full time workers… Now there’s 19 with some more part time. We also won the London living wage backdated to November.” 

Alberto described the mood amongst members as “happy” but realised that more has to be done. 

“All the working class should be together to attack the common enemy,” he said.

There is plenty of money to pay Churchill rail cleaners a real living wage. Last year Directors of the Churchill Group of companies rewarded themselves with a dividend worth £3.8 million.

In the same year Churchill Contract Services Ltd made a profit of £11.1 million and paid a dividend of £12 million to its parent company. This could have easily paid for a £15 an hour wage.

Cleaner Hussain told Socialist Worker, “If we don’t win after today we need more strikes and pickets. And everyone must get out because the bosses could replace us with agency workers.

“We’re going to fight, and we’re going to win.”

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