Tireless train cleaners won a landmark 20 per cent pay increase yesterday after bosses caved in to their hard-fought battle for a decent living wage.
For more than a year 60 cleaners at Tyne and Wear Metro in north-east England fought their privateer bosses with strike action, demonstrations, lobbying of local politicians, even staging soup kitchens to highlight their struggle for a "living wage" of £7.45 an hour.
The 20 per cent increase, spread over four years at an inflation-busting five per cent a year, achieves it. The victory also includes extra holidays.
The cleaners, members of transport union RMT, are responsible for keeping Tyne and Wear Metro's stations and trains fit for use.
RMT general secretary Bob Crow said the campaign was a beacon for millions of low-paid workers.
He said: "This pay deal, which lifts our cleaner members on this key north-east transport contract out of the shackles of the minimum wage and on the pathway to a living wage, is a breakthrough that will send out the clearest possible signal to low-paid workers throughout the land that if they fight they can win."
The union's north-east regional organiser Micky Thompson said that "fundamental to the struggle" was the cleaners' determination to win.
German firm Deutsche Bahn Regio operates Tyne and Wear Metro on behalf of the local transport authority and hired contract cleaner Churchill.
Mr Thompson said Churchill refuses to pay employees more than the statutory minimum wage and for months the company stubbornly rejected the workers' claim.
The cleaners responded with repeated strikes and a vigorous campaign to win public support. Churchill finally caved in.
Mr Thompson said: "This is about people on the bottom being exploited saying 'enough is enough.'
"But it was no easy feat. There was 33 days of strike action over 19 months ranging from one day to two weeks. They lobbied MPs and councillors. The company was obstinate. But our members managed to buck the trend.
"The way they did it was with direct action - and they utilised every democratic process. There were picket lines, media campaigns, Facebook. It is an example of what you can do. It has been a tactical process where we had to use everything, not just industrial action.
"We need to be doing this all over the country."
He said the right-wing media showed no interest in the cleaners' shocking pay.
"They have no interest in the low-paid workers of this country," he said.
Mr Crow added: "The union's focus now turns to other campaigns with companies like ISS and Initial where the fight for a living wage, decent working conditions and social justice rages on. Workers at these companies will take great heart from the Churchill's Metro victory."
You can’t buy a revolution, but you can help the only daily paper in Britain that’s fighting for one by joining the 501 club.
Just £5 a month gives you the opportunity to win one of 17 prizes, from £25 to the £501 jackpot.
By becoming a 501 Club member you are helping the Morning Star cover its printing, distribution and staff costs — help keep our paper thriving by joining!
You can’t buy a revolution, but you can help the only daily paper in Britain that’s fighting for one by become a member of the People’s Printing Press Society.
The Morning Star is a readers’ co-operative, which means you can become an owner of the paper too by buying shares in the society.
Shares are £1 each — though unlike capitalist firms, each shareholder has an equal say. Money from shares contributes directly to keep our paper thriving.
Some union branches have taken out shares of over £500 and individuals over £100.
You can’t buy a revolution, but you can help the only daily paper in Britain that’s fighting for one by donating to the Fighting Fund.
The Morning Star is unique, as a lone socialist voice in a sea of corporate media. We offer a platform for those who would otherwise never be listened to, coverage of stories that would otherwise be buried.
The rich don’t like us, and they don’t advertise with us, so we rely on you, our readers and friends. With a regular donation to our monthly Fighting Fund, we can continue to thumb our noses at the fat cats and tell truth to power.
Donate today and make a regular contribution.