Socialist Worker

London tube walkout is a striking success

by KEVIN OVENDEN reports
Issue No. 1810

A HUGELY successful strike by London's tube workers last week has shown they have the power to stop New Labour's crazy PPP privatisation scheme. Members of the RMT union struck for 24 hours from 8pm on Wednesday. The same day hundreds of thousands of council workers walked out. The strike hit London Underground management hard.

It was forced to begin shutting stations within an hour of the start of the strike, which was about the way privatisation will wreck safety standards. The following day it struggled to run any trains at all. Most drivers in the Aslef union refused to cross RMT picket lines at depots. 'We received a circular from our general secretary, Mick Rix, reminding us of the principle of not crossing picket lines,' one Aslef member on the picket line at Hainault station, east London, told Socialist Worker.

'That certainly had an effect in building solidarity. So did the fact that the strike coincided with the council workers'. It meant people felt part of something bigger.'

Bill O'Dowd, an RMT branch secretary in east London, added, 'Today is a sign of changing times. The response is even better than many activists had hoped. 'There is a better spirit around than a few years ago. Elections of union leaders like Bob Crow in our union are a sign of that. People are drawing connections. You see the chaos on the television every night. Then you find globalisation hitting you personally through the privatisation of your job. And then you see people protesting against capitalism. There are newer, younger reps and activists getting involved, and I think we can get somewhere. We need to bring all these fights together.'

The RMT is considering more industrial action following a paltry offer by London Underground. RMT officials have rejected a two year deal with a 3.2 percent pay rise in the first year and 3 percent the next year. The executive is looking at the offer. 'There is a strong likelihood we will ballot for industrial action,' an RMT spokesperson said.

Where now?

'THERE IS a lot of public support for the action. People know it is against privatisation,' said Don Stephenson, a station assistant at Newbury Park, east London. Blair seems to be saying the same thing as the Tories did under Thatcher.'

The feeling against privatisation-88 percent of people in London are against the tube sell off-fed the confidence of the tube strikers. 'I've only been in the job less than a year,' one picket at Leytonstone station, east London, told Socialist Worker. 'It's the first time I've been in a union or on strike. But it's absolutely the right thing to do. I am prepared to do it again to stop privatisation.'

'Everyone knows a one-day strike by itself will not make the government and London Underground back down,' said one picket at the Queen's Park station, west London. 'I've been talking to people in the area I work in about indefinite strike action. They are sympathetic to it, but I would not say lots of people are convinced. They do say that it is good we struck so quickly after the ballot and that we need to take more action.'

The government and London Underground would find it very hard to cope with any strike on the tube beyond 24 hours. An indefinite strike would throw them totally on the back foot.

It would also be a big focus for solidarity from the Aslef union, which has not balloted to strike over safety but whose general secretary and officials were on picket lines last week.

It would come as other groups of workers from council workers to lecturers and firefighters are taking on their employers and the government. The London Regional Council of the RMT was due to discuss further strike action on Thursday of this week.

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Article information

Sat 27 Jul 2002, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1810
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