Socialist Worker

United we can beat back Livingstone on the underground

by Socialist Worker supporters on London Underground
Issue No. 1985

illustration by Leon Kuhn

illustration by Leon Kuhn

London Mayor Ken Livingstone and London Underground Limited (LUL) management are out to destroy the power of our tube trade unions.

They believe our unions’ strength is the crucial obstacle to creating an “efficient” (more cheaply run) tube system. In fact the unions are the guarantors of workers’ rights, safety, adequate staffing and a service that treats passengers as people rather than financial inputs.

Livingstone told members of the RMT union to cross picket lines during a strike in 2004, but he returned to the theme far more aggressively during the recent station staff strike. 

Speaking to the annual London Government Dinner at Mansion House, he astonished the 300 well-fed guests – who included the capital’s 33 borough leaders and key City figures – by his anti-union tone.


They gave him an ovation when he said he “had not the slightest intention” of giving in to the RMT union. One said afterwards, “Red Ken has become Blue Ken.”

Livingstone and LUL will use the 2012 Olympics as an excuse to launch further attacks.

This week Livingstone was expected to announce an agreement with TUC leader Brendan Barber that, in exchange for very basic working conditions, the major unions will not sanction strikes at any Olympic construction site.

Instead there will be compulsory arbitration. Management would dearly love to win a similar deal on the tube.

Staff cuts and changes in the law are central to Livingstone’s onslaught. To get the numbers down, LUL bosses are seizing on government plants to abolish fire safety legislation.They want to scrap the laws that came in after the King’s Cross tragedy in 1987 that claimed 31 lives.

Faced with a considered, deliberate strategy, our unions need a rounded counter-strategy of our own.

Central to that must be using all our strength when we get in a fight, not frittering it away in battles waged by one section at a time. Fighting section by section can allow LUL to pick us off.

The recent station staff strike was very effective among the grades who were balloted, but the drivers were not balloted – although significant numbers did take action unofficially over safety alongside their station colleagues.

Now, to make it worse, our RMT leaders are recommending that we accept a deal that is essentially no different to the one that was on offer in December.

This is the very deal that we voted five to one against and which led to two days of strike action.

The union has conceded that 40 out of the 44 station groups have agreed to the new rosters when this is clearly untrue. The union has gained further consultation on the rosters, but only on the premise that the number of workers on each group are accepted.

The fact that the union cannot change the number of staff makes the safety validation of the rosters virtually meaningless.  And the safety validation of the new rosters is actually a “review” of management’s own safety validation, a justification of their own rosters.

A serious safety validation of the rosters and staffing establishments would present a very different picture. Take Liverpool Street for example – when a bomb exploded on a train near the station on 7 July, the initial emergency response was from tube workers. This will always be the case. They were stretched with the staffing numbers they had then.

They are now to lose at least 12 frontline staff. This must mean a less safe tube.

Management’s argument is that these staff were “over-establishment”, brought in specifically for project work like works on escalators.


However, the reality is that regardless of whether these staff (and not all of them are) were over-establishment, under-establishment or anti-establishment Liverpool Street had inadequate staffing numbers to respond to an emergency situation like 7 July. To be reasonably safe passengers need more staff, not fewer.

That’s why we are urging station staff to vote no in the referendum on the deal.

Just as the RMT executive was recommending an end to the station strikes, it was launching a different ballot for drivers only.

The issue at stake, the new sickness and disciplinary procedure, is extremely serious. Among other things, it gives a manager the right to send us to a disciplinary hearing if, in his or her mind, they think there is a pattern to your sickness – even if you haven’t gone beyond the rules laid down.

Also, management has put forward a draft for new bargaining arrangements that calls, for example, for “a stable, inclusive industrial relations climate by achieving a balance between collective bargaining rights and the rights of all individual staff to be consulted and informed over proposed workforce developments”.

Taken together with other measures, the true agenda is to sideline the unions with a social partnership arrangement.

This is an issue that affects us all, regardless of grade, and yet the union has again called a sectional dispute. When the other side declares war and fights you on all fronts, what use is it to send just one regiment?

We will go all out to win any ballot for action that resists the attacks. We will do our utmost to build any subsequent action and to win solidarity for any group that fights.

But we will also keep arguing for uniting all the fights behind action that involves us all. And we will also push for a broader political and industrial strategy.

This would involve, for example, appealing to passengers, who are suffering huge fare rises, that the best way to get a safe and affordable service is to get behind the unions.

We should be so lucky

London’s transport commissioner Bob Kiley is leaving on 31 January, three years before his contract ends.

Not for him any lectures about cost-cutting. Instead he gets an unprecedented settlement package for a public sector worker in Britain, worth nearly £2 million.

He remains a consultant to the mayor at £3,200 a day for up to 90 days in each year of 2006 and 2007, and 50 days in 2008. He is getting £745,000 in severance pay plus £113,425 in benefits each year from 2006 to 2008.

He can stay for three years in his Georgian townhouse in Belgravia – bought for him by Transport for London in 2001 for £2.1 million.

Ninety days max in 2006 and 2007, 50 in 2008 – that’s a real shorter working week deal!

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Article information

Sat 28 Jan 2006, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1985
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