Tube workers packed into an RMT union mass meeting in London on Thursday of last week. They are preparing to take on London Underground bosses.
Workers are under assault on several fronts. But one thing unites the different attacks – the attempt to break union organisation on the tube.
Pay is a major issue. Bosses are trying to impose a five-year pay deal tied to the RPI rate of inflation. But, as workers pointed out, RPI is falling and could even go into negative figures – which would translate into a cut in pay.
RMT members are to begin voting on action over the attacks on Tuesday of next week, in a ballot that runs until 8 April.
Bob Crow, the RMT general secretary, said, “This pay deal means that our living standards won’t improve for five years. The Olympics will take place during that time too, which will mean tube workers being expected to do more work.
“The bankers put economic pressure on Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling and they got £37 billion. We have to learn the lessons and exert our own pressure.”
Bosses are also pushing a major attack on workers’ conditions on London Underground.
A so-called “Jobs for Life” agreement was signed in 2001 between management and the RMT and the Aslef drivers’ union.
It means that any worker who is made redundant will be offered an alternative job in the network.
As the recession grows, tube workers are understandably concerned at the attempt to rip up these rights.
London Underground has already announced that it wants to cut 1,000 jobs, supposedly through “natural wastage”.
But as Crow pointed out, “If jobs are cut then the service as a whole goes down and other workers have to carry the burden. We have to stand up and fight.”
“This is a test of strength for the unions,” said Steve Hedley, the RMT regional organiser when he addressed the meeting.
“If we don’t stop compulsory redundancies now they will spread.
“But the recession is a double-edged sword for the bosses too – because we can bring London to a standstill.
“This can’t just be one day of action – it will take more than that.”
A string of victimisations and reports of bullying managers have added to the anger among tube workers.
Time after time people spoke of the “contempt” with which management treated tube workers.
Workers were angry – but they were also confident.
“How dare they come and ask us to pay because of capitalism’s crisis?” asked Brian Munro, a worker on the Bakerloo line. “We should have no half measures – let’s take on these bastards.”
“We have a duty to our class to fight back,” said Unjum Mirza, the RMT’s London region political officer.
“Workers in car plants are being massacred. We have to show that people can fight. The action can’t just be 24-hour – it has to be decisive.”
Other workers talked about the inspiring impact of the Waterford occupation in Ireland.
And there was anger at the fact that failed bosses such as Fred “the Shred” Goodwin of the Royal Bank of Scotland get to keep their massive pensions while workers’ pensions, wages and jobs are coming under attack.
The militant mood of tube workers shows the potential for a serious fightback with the power to win. Activists on the tube have to work fast to turn that potential into reality.