NOT A single London tube train ran on Wednesday of last week as RMT and Aslef union members staged the most effective strike anyone can remember. It was a humiliation for London Underground management, which had claimed there was little support for the unions' fight over pay.
The management claimed 80 percent of workers turned up as normal. But people at stations like Edgware Road and Leytonstone joined the union so they could take part in the strike.
A picture in the free Metro newspaper claiming to show RMT members at King's Cross working on the day turned out to be from 5 February last year. Management, with the support of the government, are trying to batter the unions on the tube in the run-up to privatisation under New Labour's PPP scheme.
It was stepping up intimidation of staff in the run-up to this week's 24-hour stoppage from Tuesday into Wednesday. Anonymous faxes attacking union reps have been sent out from managers' offices. And the anti-union London Evening Standard is trying to whip up a witch-hunting atmosphere against the tube workers.
It posed as a friend of health workers last week, in effect arguing that low pay in the NHS means tube workers do not deserve a rise. Nurse Sharon Geoghegan said, 'The Evening Standard called the tube strike 'Disgusting'. What's disgusting is the attempt to play off health workers against tube workers. Lower pay for tube workers won't make health workers any better off.'
Geoff Martin is the London regional convenor of the Unison union, which represents health workers. He told Socialist Worker, 'The only reason tube drivers are on a good wage is that they have been prepared to take strike action. We could do with a bit of that spirit in the NHS. Warm words from newspaper editorials about health workers have never got us anything. We are fully behind the tube workers. Our members are prepared to stand with them on picket lines and will be doing the same if the firefighters have to strike. And we are looking to put in a claim for London allowance payments of £6,111 when the issue comes up next April. We'll see where the likes of the Evening Standard stand then.'
The London regional council of the RMT union last week heard general secretary Bob Crow outline the significance of the dispute, which could become a major confrontation.
Management aims to convince station staff, the majority of tube workers, that the dispute is really only about drivers and is driven by 'union militants'. 'Countering that means taking the arguments and the picketing to all station staff,' said Unjum Mirza, an RMT safety rep at Mile End station.
'It also means getting other groups of public sector workers down on our picket lines and us addressing their meetings. Weakened unions mean no opposition to privatisation. A victory for us will strengthen everyone battling against low pay and PFI.'
The RMT and Aslef were to consider further action following this week's strike.
First North Western
TRAIN DRIVERS on First North Western (FNW) in the Aslef and RMT unions struck for 48 hours last weekend in their increasingly bitter fight over pay and working conditions. 'The strike was a big success with hundreds of services stopped across the north west,' one FNW driver told Socialist Worker. 'It was also particularly pleasing that it hit delegates going to the Labour Party conference. Labour delegates should be speaking out on our side.' The two unions have called 48-hour strikes for every weekend throughout October and November. Management at FNW are taking the same hard line that bosses at the neighbouring Arriva Trains have shown to workers who have been taking strike action since February this year.
Both battles are now important tests for the rail unions. 'The strikes on FNW and Arriva both need solidarity,' one Arriva striker told Socialist Worker. And over issues like the safety role of guards we should be moving quickly to a national dispute which can unite all rail workers.'
RMT UNION activist and Socialist Alliance general election candidate Greg Tucker has won a victory at an employment tribunal, which ruled he was unfairly dismissed by South West Trains (SWT). He was sacked as a driver and downgraded to a ticket collector over a year ago in what union members saw as clear-cut victimisation. A tribunal has now agreed he was unfairly dismissed.
The tribunal found that Greg's minor infringement of speed restrictions 'did not cause the train or its passengers any danger'. It added that SWT meted out excessive punishment and that Greg's 'past trade union activities and the prospect of his engaging in such activities in the future' were the true motives for downgrading him. SWT, owned by multimillionaire Brian Souter, now has 28 days to come up with an offer, and the RMT is pressing for Greg's full reinstatement as a driver.
THE RMT union has scored a significant pensions victory at ferry company Wightlink by stopping the closure of the company's final-salary scheme. RMT members on the Wightlink ferry voted by 168 to 18 to strike in defence of their pensions. That forced the company to agree to keep the existing scheme for all employees, including those who are not yet members.
'We made it clear that the company's proposal for an inferior scheme was completely unacceptable,' said RMT general secretary Bob Crow. Stopping the closure of the scheme is important as hundreds of companies, including the rail companies, are looking to make similar attacks on pensions.