Today was a bumper news day on the train – acquired a Times, a Mail and…. an Economist! Additionally I’m presented with a newspaper (always The Sun) every morning at the station by one of men who clears out the trains, which is very nice of him.
Since privatisation created the relatively new division of labour which established a dedicated cleaning-only grade (absolute abomination that anybody, anybody who doesn’t want to, should have to clean for a living) which could be contracted out from the core railway activities, there are legions of workers occupying cleaner-only roles in every station. I hear from people involved in the Tube Cleaners Strike that most station attendants don’t know the names of their cleaners – I thought that might be to do with flux but there is continuity in my stations and you can make acquaintances.
I’m not sure about the relationship between the cleaners on overground trains and those on the underground, but after negotiating London Living Wage of £7.45 for cleaners on Metronet and TubeLines (who subcontract to ISS who agreed to £7.45 by next April) contracts, the Tube Cleaners’ action is gearing up again to address conditions – holidays, sick pay, pension, third party sackings, and exploitation of workers with uncertain immigration status. Additionally, the pay deal has not yet been honoured by Metronet and ISS. There are several reasons things are stalling. One is deplorable schisms between the different organisations involved (exploited by the companies). The RMT successfully integrated cleaners into an all-grade union – the tireless work by experienced activists to elicit cleaners’ needs and formulated them into demands, as well as the support of drivers and station staff, helped to win the pay deal. Consequently union activists are appropriating the action as union action, but from what I can gather they haven’t worked out effective means of re-engaging their grass roots. It is important to engage members and avoid giving into the temptation to implement top-down action upon these mostly female, mostly immigrant, often disorganised cleaners. And it is important to record and evidence grievances. Another diversion is the competition for members from T&G – from what I can gather the RMT built this action and the T&G (Unite) were an undermining force.
The action united practically every section of the centre and left when it began last summer, and made national news and periodicals like the New Statesman. Hopefully can again. I’ve seen human faeces, used condoms, vomit, bones, chewing gum, ketchup – you name it, on trains. Most passengers will at some time in their lives, sit in a urine-sodden seat (not me yet). Cleaners deserve excellent recompense for dealing with our carelessness and filth. If they can get it together sufficiently they’ll need a strike fund, and personally I’ll be putting into it.
The AWL reports from August.
Anyway, one of the best things I came across today was in The Sun after all. When I think about it at all, I’m ambivalent about antipathetic to Page 3. Loveable incorrigible and unpert contrarian Julie Burchill isn’t.