TUBE DRIVERS and station staff struck for 24 hours from Tuesday into Wednesday of this week, and are to strike again next Tuesday. The action is over pay. But it has brought to the surface increasing arrogance and bullying by management as the government prepares to privatise the tube through its PPP scheme.
There are signs that tube bosses could be preparing for a major confrontation aimed at weakening the RMT and Aslef unions in the run-up to privatisation. They withdrew facility time from union reps last week and banned them from contacting new recruits. Over half a dozen reps are on disciplinary charges, which could see some sacked or downgraded.
For the first time management has written to staff threatening disciplinary action if they strike. London Underground has already imposed a 3 percent rise - the lowest offer by any train operating company this year. It has also refused to go to mediation to settle the dispute.
This points to a bitter battle which could have a decisive impact on whether privatisation goes ahead. Tube bosses were rocked last year by two one-day strikes which saw RMT and Aslef members refusing to cross each other's picket lines. A one-day strike by RMT members in July over the safety implications of privatisation shut 95 percent of the network. In addition to pay, there are also strike ballots over safety, victimisation of union reps and other issues.
Tube bosses are taking an aggressive line, with the at times open support of New Labour ministers. But tube workers have shown they have the power to strike and win. Next week's strike is scheduled to be on the same day as council workers in London walk out over pay.
If London Underground management decides to go for tube workers and their unions, they will need more such linked action by public sector workers and to be prepared to launch hard-hitting sustained strikes.