Socialist Worker

Unity is crucial for us now

by TONY COLLINS, MAC McKENNA and PETER TROTTER, tube workers
Issue No. 1909

DURING LAST week’s tube strike the same right wing media that viciously attacked firefighters and post workers for daring to strike laid into tube workers and the RMT union.

That same media then used the low pay of firefighters and post workers to show how greedy we were being!

Of course, they didn’t tell their readers what the strike was about—just as they never told their readers the truth about firefighters and post workers.

Our strike was a great success. This was no thanks to Ken Livingstone, who told us we should cross picket lines.

Tube workers are under serious assault. This strike was never about whether 3.5 percent was better than 3.25 percent.

It was about our new management’s attempt to crush our industrial strength.

We want all staff to work a 35-hour week. Station staff and signal operators were promised this seven years ago.

London Underground (LU) told us we had to accept 800 station job cuts if we wanted decent working hours for station staff.

It said that despite those staff working 37.5 hours a week when they should have been on 35 hours since 1997, they still had to pay the cost of the cut in hours.

Livingstone told the media that there would be no compulsory job cuts.

But so what? The tube is understaffed as it is—how safe will passengers feel when stations outside the centre are completely destaffed?

That is clearly LU’s aim. New technology means all booking offices will eventually shut, and staff on stations outside the central area will be replaced by private security guards earning a pittance along with roving British Transport Police officers.

The 800 job cuts are just the start of this attack.

We’re also fighting for a decent minimum wage for station staff.

Tube workers do enjoy fairly decent pay and conditions, but this is only because tube unions have fought so hard to defend and advance them.

The RMT this year asked for a minimum wage of £22,000 for station staff, who currently earn just over £18,000.

LU’s response? It said that station staff already earn too much.

Livingstone said that a 3.25 per cent offer was “incredibly generous”—but this comes from the man who seems quite happy for tube cleaners to be imported under dubious “learn English” schemes, paid £3 per hour and put up 20 to a flat.

The RMT, on the other hand, argues for everyone to be treated decently no matter how long they have worked in this country.

This year’s pay claim included a reduction in the working week to 32 hours over four days.

For all New Labour’s talk of being family-friendly, or of getting a “work-life balance”, LU dismissed our claim out of hand.

Drivers are also in management’s sights. The same pay offer includes a demand that drivers work across different tube lines.

That will lead to hugely increased travelling time to work, and much reduced safety, as drivers who are barely familiar with a line drive thousands of people on it.

Management also wants drivers to work later into Friday and Saturday nights, and to rip up our agreements.

The pay rise for all staff is dependent upon sickness levels being reduced.

LU already has a draconian sickness policy—the sort many workers are subject to across industry.

Rotating shift patterns, often worked in the dark, and often alone, mean that tube workers are prone to many more health problems than most workers.

But our attendance policy doesn’t take account of this. Instead it actually punishes us for it.

And now they want to punish us even more if we suffer illness because of difficulties in our jobs.

What’s happening on the tube is now shaping up to be a repeat of what London Transport Commissioner Bob Kiley did when he was boss of the New York subway.

That was to smash the station staff, then go on to smash the subway drivers.

That’s why this strike was so important. This is not just about trying to improve our pay and conditions.

This is about defending our industrial power and our trade unions.

It’s clear that the management want to destroy our unity, encourage the unions to fight each other, and to “modernise” the way the tube system works.

We’ve seen what the government is trying to do to firefighters—well, now we know the tube is next.

That’s why it is so important that we defend ourselves now, and why it is so important that other workers stand with us.

The pay and conditions that are now under attack have been long fought for. Many other workers have gained in confidence because of the successes of the RMT on the tube.

In fact workers from industries completely unrelated to transport are always on the phone to the RMT trying to join, because they know our union will fight.

Tube workers from both the RMT and Aslef unions have given crucial solidarity to striking workers in other industries.

It is exactly that kind of unity and solidarity that we need now.

And we need it because, slowly but surely, Blair and his henchmen want to see the destruction of union strength in Britain.


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