Friday, 27 July 2012

A trip to Stratford to support London Underground cleaners

RMT London Underground cleaners demonstration, Stratford, 27 July 2012

I went to support the RMT's London Underground cleaners demonstration at Stratford today. The cleaners are holding a 48-hour strike in support of their claim for the London living wage (currently £8.30 per hour) and for holiday and sick pay.

The cleaners work for various private firms including Initial and ISS, who sent some spies along to see who was on the demonstration.

As you can imagine, it takes some courage for cleaners to strike, and exceptional courage for them to do so at this time. They held a lively, legal demonstration in front of the entrance to Stratford station, and not far from the entrance to the Olympic Park.

Newham is one of the poorest London boroughs, so the reception was fairly supportive from passers-by. One or two visitors to the Games, however, were very sniffy.

"The whole world is watching us and you put on a display like this. Whatever will they think?" one of them said.

"Perhaps they'll be relieved to see that the UK is still a democracy," I replied, ever the wit.

One droll thing happened. RMT General Secretary Bob Crow was due to appear but didn't make it. The protest was prolonged and prolonged as his current whereabouts were relayed to the waiting crowds.

He was stuck on the Jubilee Line and, in fact, never arrived.

Many people hate Bob Crow. I don't agree with some of his politics, and I certainly don't agree with how much he is paid.

But a lot of the hatred of Crow is because of pure class snobbery: he is (was) a working-class bloke from Essex. And because he is a leader of one of the more militant - though less militant than the Evening Standard would have you believe - trade unions.

As well as being impressed by the resolve of the cleaners and the liveliness of their picket I enjoyed my visit to Stratford, where there was a real sense that the circus - for good and bad - is coming to town.

I haven't been there since about 1989. I lived for a couple of years in Leytonstone and sometimes stopped off at the shopping centre on my way home - on the days when I had a down on myself and the world, that is, for it was such a dreary place.

For all the Olympic razzamatazz, it still is rather a dreary place! But made slightly more joyous with the influx of visitors from all over the world.

Stratford shopping centre is not to be confused, by the way, with Westfield - and it couldn't be! I didn't venture into Westfield today.

I must say, the least appealing aspect so far of this Olympics is the over-the-top branding by the sponsors. It's really oppressive in places, Stratford station being one, plastered as it is with adverts for Lloyds TSB.

I have a lot of pictures from my foray today, and will add a couple to this post later. But by then we will all have our noses pressed to the TV for the opening ceremony. Fingers crossed it all goes well. We paid for it - let's enjoy it.

Would you like branding with your Olympics?

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