Feminists in support of Tube cleaners strike

// 6 July 2008

Reader Alice sent over this photo of the Feminist Fightback demo in support of the striking Tube cleaners, at the headquarters of Transport for London:


Also see this excellent write up in the New Statesman:

So, why is the tube cleaners’ plight a feminist issue? Well, for a start most tube cleaners are women and Feminist Fightback feel that cleaning has been “underpaid and devalued as a ‘women’s industry’”. At £5.50 an hour, tube cleaners are certainly underpaid and undervalued. The 700-800 RMT members have a list of demands that brings shame to Transport for London (TfL) and its cleaning sub-contractors. They want a living wage, sick pay, 28 days holiday, final salary pension, free travel and an end to third party sackings. As well as the expected level of unpleasantness involved in the work, tube cleaners claim to face grim conditions: on-the-spot sackings, having to clean faeces with their bare hands, using unsafe cleaning chemicals and cleaning eight stations at a time on their own. On top of this, many workers face intimidation over immigration status. Despite Transport for London’s insistence that the strike was “completely unnecessary” it is about much more than the simple pay dispute TfL claims to be fixing.

And what are the Tube workers striking for? Their demands are very modest.

  • A wage of £7.20 per hour, the minimum London living wage as determined by the GLA last year.
  • Sick Pay
  • Decent pensions
  • 28 days’ annual leave
  • An end to third party sackings

One concrete thing you can do* is check whether your MP has signed this early-day motion, calling for conditions to be raised for Tube cleaners. If she or he has not signed up yet, a judicious email might persuade them…

See also:

Penny Red

Liberal Conspiracy


*Other than by not dropping your litter on the Tube! See also vomiting, if it can be postponed. I struggle to believe there’s really such a thing as ‘littering in solidarity’, unless it also involves ‘cleaning up afterwards in solidarity’.

Comments From You

Anna // Posted 7 July 2008 at 12:51 am

Oh, there’s a surprise. Liam Fox hasn’t signed it.

I really, really hate that man.

Laurel Dearing // Posted 7 July 2008 at 4:08 pm

they dont get sick pay or minimum london wage? thats pathetic!

Sarah // Posted 7 July 2008 at 5:27 pm

I didn’t like the idea of ‘littering in solidarity’ either – I don’t litter normally, and I don’t see the need to start now.

I’ll email my MP though. This is just another example of ‘women’s work’ being devalued – it’s obviously hard work, and important work, and the least these women should expect is to be paid a decent living wage and benefits, and to have a safe working environment and be treated with respect.

I have to admit I’m coming to this from a position of huge privilege – I assumed it went without saying that things like sick pay and annual leave and pensions were part of being employed.

Torygirl // Posted 7 July 2008 at 9:56 pm

Polly Toynbee in the Guardian on Saturday made the valuable point that cleaning jobs need to stop being seen as ‘entry-level’. They’re vital and respectable.

Personally I think they deserve a good bit more than £7.20 an hour.

Laura Schwartz // Posted 16 July 2008 at 5:03 pm

Re the politics of ‘littering in solidarity’. Definitely an important discussion to have and one that Feminist Fightback did have. We decided to do so on advice of the cleaners themselves. Their aim, in going on strike, was to disrupt the service as much as possible and thus show their power (and the value of their work) and pressure their employers into meeting their demands. Littering meant potentially closing down stations because they were not clean enough to accord with health and safety standards- some FF members did succeed in closing down escaltors at Bank and Tottenham Court Road. Other tube workers in the same union (RMT) were prevented by the anti-trade union laws from striking in solidarity with the cleaners- but by working to rule, refusing to clear up litter and closing the stations they could act to support their fellow workers.

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