London Underground bosses were given a bloody nose when thousands of stations and revenue staff in the RMT union walked out on New Year’s Eve to defend the deal we’d won for a shorter working week.
Our bosses thought station staff couldn’t deliver a solid strike on our own and while it’s true that our union should have balloted the drivers, (we’re an “all grades” union, and we struck together to win the original deal on pay and hours), this was the most successful stations action in decades.
Our strike started at noon on New Year’s Eve and by 2pm the stations were starting to close. Managers had to cancel their leave, (sorry about your parties, lads — maybe next year eh?) and senior paper shufflers and pencil squeezers were drafted in to keep the numbers up. Legal safety requirements went the way of Auld Lang Syne.
In June 2004 we’d struck for a shorter working week. Negotiations dragged on, but by the autumn we’d won agreement on a 35 hour week. Socialist Worker supporters opposed giving up 200 ticket office jobs, but it was true that the deal, which is meant to lead to 52 days annual leave for stations and revenue staff, seemed reasonable to the membership.
Now the company wants to get rid of nearly 500 staff who work on the ticket barriers, and some station supervisors as well. You’d think the July bombs never happened, or London had lost the Olympic bid.
To strike our union was forced to jump through every legal hoop placed in front of us. However the minute we struck, untrained, unqualified staff were brought in. Despite that some 50 stations were shut on New Year’s Eve, 60 the following morning.
You want to know why staff walked out? For one thing, there are now more than 100 staff at Transport for London, (our employer), on more than £100,000 per year, which is a wee bit more than we get, but there’s more.
Government policy in Iraq and Afghanistan has made us a target for terrorists, and the proposed staffing levels compromise safety and security.
Moreover, as the strike started, news got round that the group station manager at King’s Cross had been given an MBE in the New Year’s honours list.
Staff were furious. Why was recognition for the efforts during and after the bombs being given to one person? King’s Cross staff had dealt with the dead and dying for nearly 30 minutes till the rescue services arrived. One RMT member from the station, who preferred not to be knighted, er… named, said, “In the Second Worl War, the George Cross medal was given to the people of Malta as a whole. Why couldn’t the staff of London Underground be recognised in the same way?”
If the company doesn’t move, RMT members will strike from Sunday evening for 24 hours. The union needs to ensure all stations and revenue staff know just how successful the strike was and we also need a serious focus on the drivers, with RMT members out leafleting all the depots, especially on the morning of 9 January. Any further action must move beyond 24-hour strikes.
We also need to think wider. Tube management and London mayor Ken Livingstone have a strategy to weaken the union. The outrageous fare hikes and the move towards Oyster pre-payment cards are part of that.
The RMT must respond with a rounded political and industrial strategy that can unite tube workers and passengers around issues of pay, conditions, opposition to private operators and for a good service.