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A NUMBER of trade unions have held strike ballots recently, which have resulted in big majorities for strike action. Outside localised battles by council workers, the rail unions have been at the forefront of this so far but other workers are moving into struggle. The Socialist reports on some of the major disputes.
Striking Against Low Pay On The Rail
GUARDS WORKING for Arriva Trains Northern are striking on 1/2 March as pay talks with the company have broken down. This time they will be joined by members of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA), also striking over pay.
Craig Johnston from the guards' union RMT, spoke to The Socialist:
"Arriva Trains Northern have got particularly vicious this week. They've arbitrarily decided to smash their own rostering agreements to cut overtime payments.
"If anything that's made the staff more angry.
"Arriva's position is we can have a 3% pay increase but we won't settle for just 3% in a million years. We're the only ones who've moved at all in this dispute, Arriva haven't. And we're not moving any further because our members won't allow it.
"The strike will be solid again from Cleethorpes to Carlisle and from Newcastle to Manchester. And we've another strike organised in four weeks."
SCOTRAIL DRIVERS, members of ASLEF and RMT, have voted overwhelmingly to strike on four days in March.
The drivers are claiming a 'substantial' pay rise from their basic of £23,000, in line with rates paid to drivers working for other companies who are paid around £28,000.
An extra £5,000 per year would work out at a 22% rise but Scotrail have offered 3% with a further 13.5% dependent on 'productivity initiatives to make the deal self-financing.'
Low pay has already caused a severe driver shortage at Scotrail. Services have been cut by 50% across the network when drivers have refused to work their rest days.
Postal Workers Call For Strike Now
POSTAL WORKERS voted by a 64% majority to strike over pay. The Post Office's latest offer is a derisory 2.1% across the board, still with strings attached. The union has set up a strike committee but no strike days have been announced.
In the meantime the Post Office, now Consignia, are preparing the announcement of some 'radical solutions' to their plight of losing £1.5 million a day, which will worsen with the hiving off of the lucrative business mail.
According to the new chairman Alan Leighton, these radical plans include the possibility of changing the name back to 'Post Office'. Leighton is also quoted as saying there should be a pay freeze. Presumably not on his wages though.
An Edinburgh postal worker told The Socialist:
"Negotiations are proceeding very slowly. Workers want to take action but they're just waiting in frustration. The ballot result was near enough 2:1 for a strike.
"But the pay issue has now been overtaken by the privatisation issue. Thousands of jobs are under threat and workers are worried.
"The trade union strike committee should invoke the strike ballot majority and call a strike now."
Tube Drivers Strike
DRIVERS ON London Underground are furious that management are trying to renege on an agreement made in October. RMT and ASLEF train drivers have voted by nearly nine to one and five to one respectively for strike action.
A tube driver
The unions have called two 48-hour strikes from noon on 5 March until noon on 7 March and from noon on 26 March until noon on 28 March, thereby crippling the service for three days. As the two unions are working together there is no doubt that the strike will be solid and no trains will run.
Train drivers were meant to get a 5.7% increase phased in between April and October 2002. The timetable for this should have been announced by the end of 2001.
Management agreed to implement an independent mediators' recommendation to correct an anomaly between the pay of tube drivers who drive trains in passenger service and those who drive trains carrying engineering equipment. In order to get the full amount the unions agreed to four changes to working conditions.
Now management are saying that they will offer 1.7% in April, a further 1.7% in October depending on the union accepting a package of strings and between 1.3% and 2.3% in January 2003 if it can be self-financed through further productivity.
But the new proposals are totally unacceptable. These include part-time drivers, extended running until 3:30am when necessary, all night running for special events and changes to annual leave.
Drivers are also threatened with a ban on participating in sports such as football and rugby because management believe that drivers take too much time off work with sports injuries!
Many of these proposals affect all grades and should not even be discussed as part of a train driver's claim.
When we were striking for the 35-hour week in 1995 and 1996, the then ASLEF leadership agreed we should pay for reduced hours through below-inflation pay rises for three years. This was after tube workers' pay had been eroded through several years of lousy pay deals.
Other groups of workers have won the 35-hour week without suffering reduced pay, including the transplant (engineering) drivers.
This is not about differentials, as the press are saying but to resolve this anomaly.
We should now fight for the 35-hour week for all grades, to put all tube workers back on the same conditions, without strings. The aim should be for a unified annual pay and conditions claim for all underground workers.
ASLEF and RMT branches should hold joint depot meetings to explain to the members how the noon to noon strikes will work and to cement unity for the future.
STOP PRESS: LUL mangement have made substantial concessions to the tube train drivers negotiators. The planned strike action has now been halted.
In The Socialist 1 March 2002: