TONY BLAIR last week declared war on workers fighting for better pay. He laid into tube workers for daring to be in the forefront of a growing revolt over pay and for standing up to a management that is hell-bent on privatisation. On the same day, he said the pay claim put forward by firefighters and emergency fire control operators was 'unrealistic' and would 'damage the economy'.
His comments are against everyone who is sick of low pay, privatisation and ever-increasing demands from managers. He said the recent tube strikes are 'wholly unjustified', 'have no public support', and will not 'alter the way London Underground is managed'.
Blair's attack on the tube workers and their unions is his most aggressive intervention yet against people taking industrial action. It has nothing to do with the justice of their claim. The facts back them, not Blair and London Underground management.
It is about trying to break a relatively well organised group of workers as an example to everyone else. The feeling for action over pay has already led to strikes, and ballots for strikes, by council workers, firefighters, lecturers, and various groups of workers in London.
And the same spirit has led to the election of left wing union leaders who have won because they say they put standing up for ordinary people above cosy relations with the government. Blair attacked in all but name the most principled of those leaders, including Bob Crow of the RMT rail union, at last month's TUC conference. The stakes on London Underground are very high.
If management gets away with isolating the tube workers it will encourage bosses everywhere to curb pay and attack conditions. The anti-union London Evening Standard newspaper and the government back management's plans.
Tube bosses are spinning lie after lie to try to demoralise their workers. Everyone should reject this propaganda and get behind the tube workers, the firefighters and every other group of workers fighting back.
Six reasons to back tube strikers
THE BIGGEST single group of tube workers are station assistants. They are on £19,000 a year before tax. The media focuses on drivers because they are better paid. Station staff have the most to gain from the strikes. They are fighting for equality with drivers over a 35-hour week. Station staff currently do a 37.5-hour week. Management has reneged on a deal to bring that down. London Underground took out whole-page adverts saying drivers do 4.5-hour shifts. It didn't mention that drivers usually do two of those a day.
THERE WERE 600 assaults on tube workers last year, most on station assistants. 'The entire system is underfunded, causing stress for passengers,' says one station assistant. We get the brunt of frustration, not the managers responsible for it. Staffing has gone down while passenger numbers have gone up.'
TUBE WORKERS do horrendous shifts. They are 5am to 12 noon, 7am to 3pm, 7.30am to 5.30pm, 11am to 7pm, 1pm to 9pm, 3pm to 11pm, 4pm to whenever the last train has left, and some can do night shifts of 11pm to 7am. 'It can mean finishing at 7am, having a 'rest day', and starting on a night shift 12 hours later,' says one station assistant. The shifts mean getting up at 3.30am or 4am, and getting home after 2am. All this and the pressure of the job means people get ill. Passengers already experience delays due to staff shortages. They will get worse if we are squeezed harder.'
METROPOLITAN POLICE officers get free travel on all public transport within a 73-mile radius of central London. Tube workers who started after rail privatisation in 1996 do not get concessions on the mainline rail network. There are also differing pension arrangements, so two people doing the same job are treated differently.
THERE HAS been a wave of intimidation by management. People who are off sick are being visited at home and are getting a barrage of calls from the company,' says the station assistant. One driver was sacked this year when he returned to work after being in intensive care with a life threatening illness. 'That bullying is leading staff to leave if they can. We lost a day's pay earlier this year by going on strike over the safety implications of the PPP privatisation scheme. Four out of five people in London oppose PPP. They should back us.'
LONDON UUNDERGROUND directors are paid a fortune. Bob Mason, the head of personnel, is reputed to be on £150,000 for a 12-month contract. Middle managers are on £40,000 to £45,000 and work nine to five. 'Drivers get £31,000, but only because they have been prepared to fight for it,' said the station assistant. 'We are only after 5.7 percent. Management has imposed 3 percent. And it has even refused to go to independent mediation to resolve the dispute.'