LONDON Underground workers were to begin ballots for strike action this week after management rejected union demands to preserve safety and staffing levels. The ASLEF and RMT unions are fighting the effects of New Labour's proposed PPP privatisation of the tube. The dispute hits at the heart of New Labour's privatisation mania. Strikes on the tube have the potential to kill the sell-off and add to the pressure on the government to renationalise the railway.
The two rail unions are demanding, if the PPP scheme goes ahead, that:
They have a say in the maintenance of the tube network.
There are no compulsory redundancies.
Staffing levels have to be agreed by management and the unions.
There will be no change of conditions without union agreement.
That London Underground management refused to meet these minimal demands shows that the PPP scheme will lead to poorer safety standards, sackings and worse conditions for tube workers. 'Everyone knows that this dispute is about the central issue of privatisation,' says Finn Brennan, an ASLEF union rep on the Northern Line. That is, in fact, why people are confident. Privatisation is hugely unpopular. If we struck we would get enormous support.'
New Labour's sell-off plan is already under pressure. Parliament's own watchdog, the National Audit Office, slammed the scheme in December. Its assistant auditor general said the case for tube privatisation was 'clearly not proved'.
Even the Financial Times called it a nightmare. London mayor Ken Livingstone is pushing for an alternative scheme which involves London Underground raising money on the financial markets. Everyone should back the tube workers' fight.
There is a danger that London Underground or the privateers who are due to take over will go to court to try and stop the strike ballot. ASLEF and the RMT need to counter that by building the kind of militant campaign now that can confront the courts. A good start is a public rally called by both unions for Monday of next week. More such initiatives are needed in every area and tube station across London.
SAFETY FIRST-SAVE OUR TUBE
Monday 8 January 6.30pm Friends Meeting House Euston Road (opp Euston station)
Speakers: Ken Livingstone, John Monks (TUC), Mick Rix (Aslef) and Bob Crow (RMT)