This week ISS, one of the largest cleaning contractors on the Underground, attempted to break the strength of the cleaners on the Underground by picking off two reps. Clara Osagiede, the RMT Cleaners Grade Secretary for the underground was called into a disciplinary on trumped up charges of “gross misconduct”. Mary, another cleaners’ rep fought for reinstatement after bosses got rid of her. Both of these women have been courageous in their efforts to organise some of the most poorly paid, overworked, and exploited workers in this city, a group that even some in the RMT considered ‘too difficult to organise.’
On Thursday 8 January, 40 solidarity and RMT activists including members of Feminist Fightback picketed the ISS offices while the hearings took place. Chants were kept up for the two and a half hours that the women were in their hearings. Shouts of “Reinstate Mary! Don’t sack Clara!” brought some life to the cold January morning in one of the smartest areas in Greenwich.
In a clear sign of the level of support the cleaners’ struggle commands, this picket was mobilised in just three days by the RMT, Feminist Fightback, Campaign Against Immigration Controls, SolFed, London Coalition Against Poverty, and others. It followed an earlier presence at 8am at the Hainault depot where Clara and Mary work. Ten activists went into the depot and spoke to other workers there. The morning managers’ meeting was interrupted as they stared out of the window at activists holding messages of solidarity for Clara and Mary. Activists were finally escorted off the depot by the site manager.
This mobilisation partially met its aim, and in a result few expected given management’s determination to crush the union, all charges against Clara were dropped. However Mary’s sacking has been upheld.
This week’s events are not the first time that sacking have been used as a way of targeting those who are seen as ‘troublemakers’ by management. One RMT rep was sacked by the cleaning company ISS at Stonebridge depot where, during the strike they had seen the strongest pickets on the whole network and where cleaners are routinely asked to do the work of skilled engineers, without the training, health and safety, and of course pay to go with it. Last year another rep was sacked for taking and wearing a safety hat out of the ‘free issue’ store.
Cleaners, who spend nine hours a day cleaning broken glass, vomit, etc. often have no mess room and are forced to change and keep their stuff in the same cupboards in which the chemicals are kept. When a cleaner died this year after using unsafe chemicals in an unventilated space, the conditions remained the same for the worker who took over the shift. One cleaner was found the morning after she had died in a cupboard.
These are the sort of conditions that, as a result of the history of trade unionism and working class resistance in this country, are rarely imposed on any other group of workers other than immigrants, which tube cleaners are almost entirely. The private cleaning companies ISS, ITS, ICS and GBM have used the immigration status of organisers as a weapon against them, colluding with immigration controls to arrange the deportation of key activists. To resist effectively we must reject immigration status as a way of dividing us. There are no workers more or less entitled to be here.
Feminist Fightback will continue to offer their solidarity to Mary and this important struggle. The RMT have called a further demonstration for Wednesday 14 January. Details email firstname.lastname@example.org
Pictures of the action are here