Workers on London Underground are pushing hard to win a strike ballot taking place among 10,000 RMT union members over pay and job cuts. They know the stakes are high.
Management are taking a hard line and offering no concessions. They may see the economic crisis as their best chance to take on the RMT and win.
Such a strategy must have the backing of London mayor Boris Johnson. Prime minister Gordon Brown has also probably been consulted.
But a victory for the RMT would give a big boost to those fighting back everywhere.
One tube worker says, ‘This is the fifth time in my working life that I’ve been facing redundancy. But it is the first time my union has fought back.
‘With the recession getting worse every day I’m really glad that there’s some resistance here. It will be important for us and for the whole working class if we win.’
The general view among activists is that there will be a strong vote for action – but there is no complacency.
Around 70 people came to a recent meeting of the strike committee on Metronet (the division responsible for maintenance and renewal of the infrastructure on nine underground lines) to discuss the ballot.
‘We’ve had five or six strike ballots in the last 18 months, so people know the score,’ says one RMT member.
‘The feedback from the depots is generally positive and the union has been quicker than management to get information out. It’s important we fight for every vote because we want a decent turnout.’
There is also a good mood among the train drivers, station staff and signal workers.
‘We are building the strike vote and recruiting at the same time,’ says one train driver. ‘Aslef, the rail union that has some tube drivers, is telling its members not to fight this year.
‘That leaves many of their members frustrated and unhappy. Some are taking out joint membership so they can be part of our action.’
Many workers think that one element of management’s proposed five-year pay deal is their desire to get the question of pay for the Olympics settled now, while there is a recession and when the union could be in a weaker position than in 2012.
During the Sydney Olympics, transport workers were paid 30 percent above their normal rate. That won’t happen in London if this deal, which ties pay to the RPI rate of inflation, goes through.
There is also anger over an alleged rise in bullying and the abuse of disciplinary procedures. Specific disputes are taking place on the Piccadilly and Victoria lines.
The ballot covers three areas – Metronet, London Underground Limited, and Transport for London – each with their own negotiating teams.
To guard against ‘divide and rule’ the RMT negotiators have pledged to be accountable to a central strike committee. There will be no deals by one group until they are acceptable to all.
The ballot closes on Wednesday of next week. A strike on the underground could shut down London.
Many RMT members are pushing to start with 72-hours action swiftly followed by a further strike. That is the sort of response that can change the mood about fighting for jobs and pay.
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