This week sees a major battle on London Underground as around 1,000 maintenance workers strike over pay and conditions at the privatised Tube Lines consortium.
RMT transport union members voted by three to one to strike after Tube Lines offered an inferior deal to the one given to maintenance workers doing the same work on Metronet.
The workers, who maintain the Jubilee, Piccadilly and the Northern lines, will strike for 72-hours from 12 noon on Wednesday of this week.
They have also fixed another 72-hour strike from 12 noon on Wednesday 3 September.
The strikers include workers on the tube’s emergency response unit, who carry out lifesaving emergency operations in the event of an accident.
Many tube drivers across the network will rightly refuse to take their trains out because they are concerned about the safety of the public if they operate the service without an emergency response unit.
Every trade unionist must throw their weight behind the strikers.
The Fire Brigades Union (FBU), whose members also carry out vital rescue services on the tube, has shown the way by backing the Tube Lines’ workers.
Ian Leahair, FBU executive member for London, said, “On safety grounds we support the 72-hour industrial action to be taken by the RMT starting on Wednesday. Tube Lines should pay the same as Metronet pays.”
Andy Dark, FBU deputy general secretary, said, “Tube bosses should not jeopardise safety on the underground network by cheapskating on their staff.”
Tube workers are angry at the attacks on them and their union. Tory mayor Boris Johnson wants a no strike deal on the tube.
Paul O’Brien, an RMT company council rep on Tube Lines, told Socialist Worker, “This is a strike over pay and bad conditions.
“Metronet workers got a 5.1 percent pay deal this year, while we are offered under 5 percent.
“Metronet workers have a final salary pension scheme and free travel on London Underground – many Tube Lines workers do not.
“It is only the older workers, who transferred over from London Underground, who have better conditions.
“Workers at Tube Lines are still paid thousands of pounds less each year than those on Metronet.
“People have to work in poor conditions, working on tracks in confined spaces with a lot of heat.
“It is a dangerous and hard job that takes its toll on people’s bodies. That’s why a decent pension is so important to us.
“Tube Lines made pre-tax profits of £73 million last year. This is money that should be going into the network rather than to the shareholders.
“People are also pissed off about the PPP privatisation on the tube, which was Gordon Brown’s baby.
“The union has always argued that the tube is a public service and should be run by people responsible to the public.
“It is good to be out on strike at the same time as the tube cleaners, who have been treated disgracefully by their employers and London Underground. We are hoping to have joint picket lines with them.”
Members of the TSSA rail workers’ union at Tube Lines are also balloting for action over the issues.
The Tube Lines strike can help pull together all of the different disputes breaking out on London Underground. These include a planned strike by RMT members at the East Ham group in east London on Friday of this week.
“This is a dispute over the sacking of Sarah Hutchins, the stopping of pay to some staff members and general management bullying,” reports Rick Grogan, an RMT level one rep on the East Ham group.
“There was an over 90 percent vote for action.”
Workers who put up posters on the tube, employed by CBS Outdoor, struck for four days over pay two weeks ago.
Around 100 staff at Elephant & Castle, Charing Cross and Lambeth North have struck for 24 hours over the sacking of Jerome Bowes, who was sacked for defending himself against an assault from a member of the public on New Year’s Eve.
Some 85 staff at Waterloo and Westminster stations are being balloted over the sacking of Mo Makboul.
A disciplinary panel concluded that because Mo had asked a passenger why she had sworn at him, he had sought a confrontation with her.
The RMT brought all the disputes together at a rally in central London on Tuesday of this week.
If tube workers use their united strength they can win in all of these battles.
The new issue of Across the Tracks, the rank and file paper for rail and tube workers, is out now.
It leads on the tube strikes. For copies phone 07753 979 637