Underground Cleaners Rise Up

December 8, 2008

In June and July this year over 700 cleaners on London Underground organised by the RMT union went on strike for a living wage and other demands, in one of the first actions by mainly illegal migrant workers that this country has ever seen. Previously kept in silence and poverty pay by brutal employers, ISS, ICS, GBM and Initial, this strike proved the courage of a group of vulnerable workers.

Particularly solid and inspiring in the first days, the strike was followed by a vicious employer crackdown. Employers who had previously never questioned their cleaners’ right to work started to use immigration status as an excuse to crush the cleaners’ fight. ISS has intimidated hundreds of cleaners off the job in this way. GBM even called in the immigration authorities to apprehend cleaners in its offices.

The threat of RMT-organised Tubelines engineers to coincide a strike with the cleaners brought cleaning company ISS to the table. Other companies were pressured by Transport for London. All cleaning companies on the Underground will be paying the London living wage of £7.45 by April 2009. In this sense, the cleaners have won a huge victory. But the cleaners’ organisation has also been shattered by the employers’ brutal union-busting, anti-immigrant tactics.

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