Thousands of RMT transport union members on London Underground and Transport for London responded magnificently to a series of attacks on them by taking part in a solid 48-hour strike last week.
The workers struck from 7pm on Tuesday until 7pm on Thursday for decent pay, and against job losses and management bullying. The strike had a major impact on the running of the tube system.
Management, London’s Tory mayor Boris Johnson and the media made a concerted effort to attack the RMT.
Johnson and management are out to weaken the union on London Underground so they can push through a swathe of attacks.
They want to make millions of pounds worth of cuts, in part to pay for the fiasco of the failed privatised Metronet infrastructure consortium.
Its collapse could cost over £400 million.
Management tried every trick in the book to stop the strike from happening.
After workers voted overwhelmingly to strike in April, management launched a legal challenge that forced union leaders to call a reballot.
Management then intervened, urging people to vote no, but workers defied them by voting for strikes by an even bigger proportion – over 85 percent.
Before the strike Peter Hendy, the head of Transport for London, wrote to every worker asking them not to strike.
When this didn’t work, managemnt and the mayor resorted to crude attacks.
Boris Johnson claimed that the strike was having little effect, even though anyone travelling around the capital city during the action could see the massive level of disruption it caused.
Management claimed that the union had rejected a deal to end the strike, even though RMT general secretary Bob Crow had signed an agreement that management then refused to sign.
The Evening Standard newspaper claimed that the only reason that the RMT was striking was against the sacking of two tube drivers on the Victoria Line, ignoring workers’ grievances over the three main issues behind the strike (see » The three key issues).
Behind all of management’s bluster was an attempt to weaken RMT members’ resolve and force them back to work humiliated. But the ploy failed.
If anything the strike’s power increased over its duration.
Solid picket lines took place across the city. Whole lines were suspended, stations were closed and other lines only ran a limited shuttle service.
Management only got just over a quarter, at best, of the normal amount of trains running on the tube.
Many new union reps were central to ensuring the success of the strike, putting the arguments at depots and stations across the capital.
There was deep pride among strikers about how solid their action was.
One RMT member at Stonebridge Park depot told Socialist Worker, “All of the attacks from different sources had no effect on the workers. People didn’t waver.
“Union members solidly supported the strike.
“I was very pleased with how the strike went at my workplace as no one crossed the picket line.
“We are fighting to protect thousands of jobs, which we have been attacked for doing. But when there is an economic crisis it’s good to have a union saving workers’ jobs – other unions should do the same.”
Gary Lazell, an RMT member at East Ham station, said, “Lots of people are losing their jobs for no reason. The company is making profits each year. Any job cuts at stations will affect us.”
“Pay is an issue, but the main issue for us is jobs,” added Clare Reilly, who is also an RMT member at East Ham station. “This strike shows management that they can’t run the system without us.”
RMT member Jon said, “The media and management are trying to confuse the public by saying that the strike is all about two sacked train drivers.
“That’s rubbish. Members were balloted for a number of reasons and they voted to strike over them.
“The press is claiming that all London Underground workers earn £40,000, but that’s nonsense.
“The lower grade workers are on around £23,000 a year. How much does it cost to live in London, and bring up your family? We just want to be able to pay the bills.
“We also want to defend the agreement we have over compulsory redundancies and stop management breaching their disciplinary policies day in, day out.”
The tube battle is crucial in the struggle to stop bosses and the government making ordinary people pay the price of the recession.
Everyone should back their fight for jobs, justice and decent pay.