LONDON Underground workers have been left wondering whether to laugh or cry following the end of the pay campaign for 2002. After two days of strikes last year, London Mayor Ken Livingstone stepped in, offering to settle the dispute via binding arbitration. London Underground had imposed 3 percent, provoking the strikes.
Now the mediator has awarded just 0.75 percent on pay, with no concessions on privilege travel, pensions or a shorter working week. The danger now is that Livingstone will try to get away with another cash-only offer for this year, probably around 3.75 percent, and hold over all discussion on the other issues until next year in an attempt to lure the union into a multi-year deal.
Livingstone is keen to be seen to have 'done business' with the RMT and Aslef unions in the run-up to the next mayoral election. At a packed meeting of RMT reps last week, with many new faces, all the voices from the floor made it clear that they thought the 2002 arbitration was rubbish. They called for a serious campaign for this year, with strikes if management doesn't pay up.
RMT union leader Bob Crow said London Underground management had to cough up on pay, conditions and pensions, and that there was no way that discussions on these issues would be carried over to next year. The rail unions have given Livingstone important political backing at times in his fights with New Labour. The RMT has gone further, and has reduced its funding to the Labour Party and democratised its political fund to reflect our anger at the government's policies.
It's important that having broken with Labour on many important issues like PPP, the firefighters' dispute and the war on Iraq, we maintain our independence from Livingstone too.