TUBE DRIVERS in London were set to strike on Friday of this week in a dispute that should be a rallying point for everyone opposed to New Labour's privatisation plans for London Underground.
'The immediate issue is pay,' one Northern Line driver told Socialist Worker. 'But it is all about fairness and the way management is trying to claw back money from us in the run-up to privatisation. They have already spent tens of millions on consultants and advertising campaigns to push the PPP scheme.'
Management has been trying to slur tube workers as greedy. The Tory Evening Standard has also disgracefully attacked the RMT and ASLEF rail unions for even considering strike action 'during a time of world crisis'. 'That's a cynical exploitation of the tragedy in New York last month,' says a station assistant on the Central Line. 'They are trying to use the war against Afghanistan to force a surrender by workers at home.'
Tube drivers were given below inflation pay rises for three years-1996 to 1998-in return for a reduction in the working week to 35 hours. 'We weren't happy with what in effect is a pay cut. But we did get shorter hours,' says the Northern Line driver.
Now London Underground is reducing the working week for other grades without any loss of pay. 'Managers have got a reduction in hours, but are telling us we are greedy for wanting to get our lost pay back,' the Northern Line driver says. London Underground is digging its heels in because it knows confident trade unions stand in the way of private sector profits under PPP. That makes the decision by RMT leaders to call off action by station staff, planned for Friday, all the more mistaken.
'They felt there would not be strong support for the action,' says one RMT rep. 'All the indications were that it would be effective. We've shown that through official and unofficial action earlier this year. Unlike the drivers, station staff were not told there would be a serious fight for a major pay claim. So we have accepted 4 percent. Management had to back down. But there is one issue that will unite all tube workers-opposing privatisation. That should be right at the centre of what we are doing now.'