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Strikers put safety before profits

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Issue 1748

Anger amongst tube and college workers

Strikers put safety before profits

THE RMT union has called two strikes on London Underground during the week of the election. That puts the issue of tube and rail privatisation firmly at the heart of the election campaign in London. The decision to strike on Monday 4 and Wednesday 6 June follows a revolt among union reps on the tube.

They were against moves to cut a deal with management. Bobby Law, London regional organiser of the RMT, described the mood at last week’s 160-strong reps meeting as “unprecedented”. Speaker after speaker attacked the decision to call off a strike planned for 3 May. They pressed for further action which could stop New Labour’s PPP privatisation scheme.

And they exposed the lies against them spread by the London Evening Standard. It claims tube workers are striking for “jobs for life”. But RMT members threw out management’s deal because it did not address concerns over safety while it made some concessions over job security. As the dispute goes on, more and more RMT members also want to directly confront privatisation.

The Standard claims tube union leaders are orchestrating an unnecessary strike. Yet RMT members have voted 12 to one for action and are pushing for strikes on the back of strong public support.

Drivers in the ASLEF union are organising to respect RMT picket lines, as they did over the last tube strike. The smears from the press, New Labour and mainstream politicians are going to continue. “Tube workers are going to have to rely on their own strength and public support,” one RMT rep on the Victoria Line told Socialist Worker. “People are up for action, but we need to strengthen rank and file organisation.”

The Standard and the Financial Times ran articles on Friday and Saturday of last week targeting left wing officials in the RMT. The media is linking the tube strikes with a growing dispute involving guards on the national mainline network. The press claim both are about political posturing.

The fight against privatisation is what links both battles. Guards on South West Trains (SWT), which runs services into London’s Waterloo station, struck for 24 hours on Friday of last week. They are due to strike again this Friday, and on 26 and 29 May. “Management says this is just a silly row about uniforms,” says one SWT guard. “But they are treating us like dirt. They are also forcing us to put collecting revenue before safety.” Guards on other lines are under the same pressure and are also balloting for strike action.

New Labour is desperate to kill off action and opposition to privatisation. TUC leader John Monks weighed in earlier this month to attack the RMT publicly. London mayor Ken Livingstone has distanced himself from the RMT. His transport supremo, Bob Kiley, is now in charge of negotiations with the private companies bidding to take control of the tube. Kiley wants a unified management structure, but he is no friend of workers. He condemned the last tube strike.

One of the US managers Kiley wants to bring in is David Gunn. Even the Standard says, “He hires and fires without sentiment.” None of the mainstream parties is pledging to reverse the disastrous rail privatisation. The Socialist Alliance backs renationalisation and demands the tube stays in public hands. It is urging supporters to build solidarity for the strikers.

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