The public rally against tube privatisation earlier this month had speakers from the ASLEF, RMT and TSSA rail unions. ASLEF, which represents train drivers, and the RMT, the general rail trade union, are balloting their members together and plan joint action at the beginning of next month.
That is a major step forward. The pressure for unity among rank and file tube workers has been central to winning joint action. TSSA leaders are not balloting their members for action. The union used to be scarcely significant on the tube-organising a few hundred white collar office workers and winning a reputation for opposing strikes. But it has grown over the last five years. It now has about 3,500 members out of 15,000 tube workers.
Some 10,000 are in ASLEF or the RMT. A tube worker in ASLEF told Socialist Worker, 'Management ended the check-off system, which automatically deducted union subs for the established RMT and ASLEF unions, in 1996.
'That means people have to pay by standing order. TSSA seized the chance and expanded to win recruits among station staff. The people joining are young and often end up in TSSA because its officials got to them first.'
Those TSSA members can be won to supporting strikes, and certainly to not crossing ASLEF and RMT picket lines. Winning that solidarity would be far easier if TSSA general secretary Richard Rosser instructed his members not to cross picket lines. But he will not do that unless he is put under tremendous pressure. And at the 1,300-strong rally against privatisation both Mick Rix, general secretary of ASLEF, and Bob Crow, assistant general secretary of the RMT, said it was up to each union leader what they did in their own union. Tube workers cannot rely on their officials to maximise unity. Instead activists on the tube need to approach EVERY worker in their station now to back strike action.
A south London tube worker says, 'Two of the TSSA union members I work with have only been doing the job for one or two years. There's no way they are wedded to undermining action by other trade unionists. Strike committees should involve everyone who wants to see a fight. We need to be discussing how we get solidarity from local workplaces. This is more than a trade union dispute. It is a major challenge to New Labour's privatisation programme.'