Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Spectres at the Feast?

Just human beings asking to be recognised and paid a decent wage


AS City finance handed out record bonuses before Christmas, low-paid workers who perform essential services were campaigning for a living wage. Five cleaners from the City and Canary Wharf, members of my union the T&G, took up a hunger strike outside RBS - Royal Bank of Scotland, which has made huge profits and can sponsor major sporting events, but like other companies and public bodies puts its cleaning out to low-wage contractors.

"For 16 months we have been part of the struggle for a living wage for cleaners across the capital. Cleaners work so hard but for very little in return; often no sick pay and no basic holiday pay and many companies will not work with the cleaners and our Union to help us overcome this poverty.

"This week one of the major banks cleaned by our brothers and sisters-RBS – announced £9 Billion in profits. They can afford to treat their cleaners with dignity but do not. And they employ a contract cleaning company, Lancaster who has refused to recognize our Union or work with us to achieve a living wage for cleaners. "

I see the Rail, Maritime and Transport union RMT which organises workers on the London Underground is also taking up the cleaners' fight. My fellow-blogger Janine Booth, an RMT branch secretary in east London, provides a video about her union's demonstration for the cleaners outside Metronet headquarters, http://www.workersliberty.org/node/7451
and on a seasonal note the cleaners' topical carol:-

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas, my boss should give to me ...
an annual pay increase
a shorter working week
a decent pension scheme
twenty eight days leave
full employment rights
free travel pass
proper safety wear
respect and equality
a fair sick-pay scheme
clean changing rooms
unsocial pay
and at least seven pounds and 5p

To bring us up to date, a tube worker reader of Janine's blog says there's action coming up in the New Year, with a lobby of London's mayor:-

Support the Cleaners!
Lobby Ken Livingstone to support Rail and Tube cleaners
Stop ISS TubeLines cutting cleaners by 20%
Sack the contractors not the cleaners
Support RMT's Cleaners' Charter

Monday 8th January 10am, at the Mayor's office, The Queen's Walk, London SE1 2AA - nearest station London Bridge, leave by Tooley Street exit, Lobby Ken Livingstone to support Rail and Tube cleaners.

Which reminds me....

That bit about cutting cleaners might have us worried, as tube users, not just trade unionists. Back in the 1980s some clever dick on London Transport decided they could save money by cutting routine cleaning jobs. On 20 November, 1987 an accumulation of grease, fluff, and litter caught fire under an escalator belt at Kings Cross station, and 31 people lost their lives in the conflagration.

The inquiry decided the fire was probably caused by someone dropping a lighted match (though where you have moving machinery generating friction and heat, and inflammable materials nearby, a match need not be necessary - you have tinder box.) Smoking has been banned, wooden escalators replaced by metal, and fire safety provision and training improved. All the same....

Mayor Ken Livingstone is no longer "red", nor much of a friend to rail unions - it has not been forgotten how he called on workers to cross picket lines - but with the Kings Cross disaster anniversary coming up next year, maybe someone should remind him - we want decent pay and conditions for all the workers on our transport system, and decent and safe conditions for all the workers using it.

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At 5:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think union interference will have a major impact on numbers of cleaning jobs. How do you think the increases will be funded? not by the likes of RBS. RBS will just go back to their contractors demanding cuts in costs, which will mean the contractors laying off staff and reducing cleaning frequencies to their buildngs, hence, less cleaning jobs on offer.

Anybody who supports the unions is bonkers, it will only cost the cleaners in the end.

At 5:39 PM, Blogger Charlie Pottins said...

I don't know what planet you have been living on, but in my limited experience of half a century working, you have to use collective effort -i.e. unions to get decent pay and conditions. Otherwise you are just in a competition to work for less.
As for jobs, no company employs more people than they need. If the firms cut down on staff to cut corners, the clients will know about it - we already saw that in the hospitals.
Companies like RBS can pay, either by employing in-house staff or by writing decent staff levels and conditions into contracts.
If firms can't pay a living wage they have no right being in business. Of couse they are relying on the public to subsidise them by paying people benefits to make up their low earnings, and/or probably employing "illegals".
Very charitable of them, giving people jobs...
I'll stay bonkers and support the unions - I only wish they had taken up the fight for the lower paid earlier, and opposed outsourcing as well.
You can stay an arsehole and support the bosses.


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