The strike by tube workers over jobs and pensions in London last week brought the capital to a near standstill, and forced London Underground bosses to back down.
The powerful strike by 2,300 members of the RMT union at the failed Metronet consortium was against the disaster caused by tube privatisation. Its success shows how workers can fight and win against the bosses.
Despite Gordon Brown and London mayor Ken Livingstone throwing their weight against the strike, Metronet was forced to ask for talks with the RMT after just a few hours of action.
Metronet ran the Public Private Partnership (PPP) scheme responsible for two thirds of the maintenance and infrastructure on the London Underground.
It ran up £1.9 billion of debt and went into administration in July, threatening workers’ jobs and pensions.
The strike began for a proposed three days on Monday of last week at 6pm, closing nine out of the 12 tube lines.
Brown demanded workers “get back to work” while Livingstone called the strike “incomprehensible”.
Livingstone and the bosses claimed that they had already given the union the guarantees it needed before the strike. But in the talks management went further than they had previously.
This meant that the union suspended last week’s strike on Tuesday evening and, after discussions with reps on Friday, a three-day strike set for this week.
“There were reports that the deal reached was the same as the one that we already had,” Unjum Mirza, the RMT’s political officer for the London Transport region, told Socialist Worker.
“But that is wrong. We got much more as a result of the strike. The threat to 691 jobs has been removed.
“Livingstone had said that Metronet pensions would be placed in the Pension Protection Fund while the consortium is in administration.Workers would only receive 90 percent of their pensions – which is a threat to many people’s livelihoods.
“But the new deal means that there will be 100 percent pension recovery. People will also be paid back for money lost.
“We are ironing out the wording on guarantees over outsourcing of jobs when the administration ends before we call off the dispute.
“We achieved as much as we can industrially, but there is a political fight which is on-going over privatisation and cuts.
“Our strike was solid. It has put the RMT back on the map and shown that we can organise against the attacks our members face.
“There are other issues over the PPP, ticket office closures and job losses that the RMT is now in a better position to fight.
“The result also sends a signal to other public sector workers that if you strike resolutely you can take on the government and win.”
Frank Murray, an RMT member at Metronet, told Socialist Worker, “The strike was a fantastic victory. We were picketing in Acton, west London, during the strike.
“When no trains went past us we thought that now management will see that it’s not only the drivers that can affect the system, but infrastructure workers too,
“Because of the strike the system had to close down.
“This strike was not a selfish act on behalf of the people on strike. It was a strike over the PPP. We want to save the public money, and we wanted to save our jobs and pensions. We want Metronet back in public hands.
“Since privatisation the fares have gone up a lot.
“The five companies that made up Metronet – EDF, Atkins, Bombardier, Balfour Beatty and Thames Water – are making millions of pounds of profits as individual companies.
“Why do they have to go to the government to fund them after Metronet got into debt?”
Danny Canavan, an RMT health and safety rep based at Hainault, said, “The members thought this was a very worthwhile strike. The shopfloor was solidly behind the action.
“Not a wheel turned during the strike – that says a lot about the members. Our victory lets management know what we can do.
“The public service ethic goes very deep among shopfloor members. They care about what they do. We want to keep the trains running, but we also want our pensions.”
Jackie Darby, an RMT health and safety rep at Metronet, said, “Our employer is so untrustworthy that whatever it said we didn’t believe.
“We wouldn’t call any strike off until we had the deal on pensions written in ink on paper before us. As well as everything else, management agreed that they would negotiate with the union over safety – which is part of the code of practice of the PPP.
“The strike was wonderful and really hurt management. Other workers on London Underground were absolutely brilliant in their support for us.”
The union is continuing its campaign for a publicly owned London Underground system. It lobbied the TUC on Tuesday of this week to demand that Metronet is brought back in-house.
It has also organised a public meeting against the closure of ticket offices alongside the TSSA union in Friends Meeting House, Euston Road at 6.30pm, Thursday 20 September.