London was brought to a near standstill this week by a strike of some 2,300 engineering and infrastructure workers on London Underground that started at 6pm on Monday.
The action was called by the RMT union to protect jobs and pensions for rail workers employed by Metronet, the failed private consortium charged with infrastructure maintenance on the Underground network.
The strike's huge impact forced Metronet to offer talks with the union, which were due to begin as Socialist Worker went to press.
Unfortunately, the TSSA and Unite unions called off their strikes, also set for this week, after London mayor Ken Livingstone offered them assurances over pensions and jobs.
But the RMT is demanding guarantees from Metronet and its administrator – the people with the authority to grant those assurances. These guarantees have not been forthcoming.
The TSSA plans to call strikes next week alongside the RMT, which has scheduled another three-day strike from Monday of next week if a meeting of pension fund trustees this Wednesday does not give the required guarantees.
Striking workers are angry at the way that Metronet ran up £2 billion of debt under Gordon Brown's Public Private Partnership (PPP) deal – and then went into administration. They are demanding the consortium is brought back in-house.
Paul Jackson is the RMT branch secretary of London Underground engineering branch. He told Socialist Worker in a personal capacity, 'Metronet has messed with our pensions. Our pensioners are losing money while the company is in administration.
'I've had people ringing me saying that they can't pay their mortgages. They don't understand how these top people who have cost the public a fortune are still with the company. It's a national outrage.
'There's a lot of sympathy for what we're doing. Train drivers have let their managers know that they will not drive trains if their safety, and that of their passengers, is not assured.
'Metronet has highlighted how privatisation doesn't work. The whole of the tube infrastructure should be brought back under public control.'
Jackie Darby, an RMT health and safety rep at Metronet, told Socialist Worker, 'The strike is going absolutely brilliantly. No one has gone into work.
'We've had to strike because we have not received the guarantees we demanded. Transport for London has given us guarantees – but the decision does not rest in its hands.
Pat, a station supervisor, joined a demonstration on Tuesday that marched from Metronet headquarters to the department of transport.
'This strike has brought the most unity among tube workers for a very long time,' he said. 'It gives us hope for the future.'
Livingstone's letter claims
London mayor Ken Livingstone attacked the Metronet tube strike, describing it as 'incomprehensible'.
He claimed the unions 'received a letter setting out precisely the assurances they had asked me for from the administrator and Metronet, and, in addition, my own assurances regarding the future'. But the letter to the RMT does not do this at all.
It is written by Alan Bloom, the joint PPP administrator, and Andrew Lezala, chief executive of Metronet.
They write, 'We both agree that during the period of administration there will be no streamlining or transfer of employees from Metronet, provided, as a consequence, your union agree to call off any industrial action planned during this period.
'Transport for London will be urging the pensions board of trustees to ensure that no staff will lose a penny of their pension entitlement whilst Metronet remains in administration.
'A recommendation from a working party of the boards of trustees of the pension fund... will be considered by the full board of trustees on Wednesday 5 September.'
This is not the guarantee on pensions that the union is demanding, nor is it a long term guarantee on job cuts and transfers. It is also dependant on the union calling off strike action.
Workers' jobs and conditions were guaranteed when the PPP began – but that meant nothing when the PPP went into administration.