Hundreds of commuter’s journeys were disrupted this morning as activists from Feminist Fightback added to the pressure of the strike by 800 RMT cleaners on the underground by ‘milkshaking’ escalators at key stations on the network.
Cleaners have been on strike since Tuesday evening after Transport for London failed to grant any concessions during the cleaners’ one day strike last week. London Underground cleaners – the majority of whom are women and people from ethnic minorities – have to struggle with low wages, no pension schemes or proper sick pay, contracts which offer as little as 12 days annual leave and the indignities of on-the-spot third party sackings.
Activists from Feminist Fightback planned the action to cause chaos in order to highlight the crucial role that London Underground cleaners – the majority of whom are women and migrant workers – play in keeping the underground running.
Clara Osagiede, RMT Cleaner’s Grade Secretary explains the situations cleaners have to deal with:
“We have a member whose normal shift is 11pm-5am, he was thirsty on his shift, and so went to the kitchens to get some water. A representative of his contracting firms accosted him, asked what he was doing there, demanded his pass and then put it in his pocket and ordered him to get out. With no further explanation, the man was fired the next day. Sexual harassment of female cleaners by their managers is rife. Because their immigration status is uncertain they are unable to complain or they will face being sacked. Many of these women get very depressed.”
Laura Schwartz, member of NUS women’s committee and Feminist Fightback activist, states:
“Keeping the underground clean is an essential task. As feminists we want to highlight the extent to which what is traditionally seen as ‘women’s work’ is so undervalued and are willing to take direct action to do so. Cleaning is vital work and women workers deserve fair pay and decent conditions.”
Last Friday the group invaded London Underground Headquarters. Armed with feather dusters, brooms and mops, they set about helping Transport for London ‘clean up their act’ until they were forcibly removed. Activists are targeting Transport for London to ensure that they do not pass the buck and instead take responsibility for the working conditions of the underground cleaners.