London Underground bosses have been forced to come up with a new offer to resolve the dispute over staffing and safety which has led to two 24-hour strikes by station staff in the RMT union.
The union’s national executive agreed the deal on Tuesday, but activists were still to consider its details as Socialist Worker went to press.
A mass meeting for all RMT members on the underground was due to take place on Thursday of this week and there will be a snap ballot on whether to accept it, with the result known on Friday of next week.
But even before activists met to discuss the offer, some aspects were clear.
Management has made some minor concessions and has negotiated with the union, when it had previously given every impression publicly that it would simply ignore us.
London mayor Ken Livingstone also struck an aggressive anti-union tone when he told City types last week that he had no intention of negotiating with the RMT.
The fact that tube bosses have made any concessions at all is testimony to the strike last week by station staff and the considerable support they got from drivers, many of whom refused to work in unsafe conditions on the strike day.
The strike was over 95 percent solid among RMT station grades. That’s a major achievement and should give the lie to claims that station staff are not prepared to take action.
On first impressions it seems management has conceded a two-week review period of new rosters, which are due to come in on 5 February. These are the new arrangements that cut staff numbers at many stations, undermine safety and are at the heart of the dispute.
There will also be a limited opportunity for the RMT reps to review the safety implications of the rosters.
But there is no getting round the fact that if this deal is accepted it will concede the dangerous new rosters.
Industrial relations and safety machinery might minimise some damage, but no one seriously expects that we’ll win through procedures rather than through industrial action.
No tube worker should be in any doubt that Livingstone and management want to cut staff and undermine the unions.
The RMT and Aslef unions are balloting drivers for action over disciplinary procedures. That’s just one of many rounds of attacks that face us, and they are coming up quickly.
If the station staffing dispute is round one, it will make a huge amount of difference whether rank and file members come out of it feeling stronger rather than weaker.
Accepting the new rosters will put us in a weaker position to face the coming battles.
No one can say the problem has been that station staff won’t strike—they have done. If the problem is putting pressure on management and big business in London by shutting the network, then the answer lies in pulling out all tube workers — station staff, drivers and signallers.
We face attacks on all grades. The response cannot be a series of sectional disputes, but fighting over all the issues and responding to Livingstone’s threats by united and extended action across all grades.
And it has to be a response that puts the issues of safety, defending union organisation and political opposition to New Labour to wide layers of union activists in London and beyond.