Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/423/4955
Walk out prompts ASLEF ballot
THE TRAIN driver's union ASLEF are to ballot their 2,200 drivers on London Underground for a series of one-day strikes. The socialist spoke to workers on the Northern Line:
The strike ballot is in response to management's plans for new disciplinary and attendance policies. These policies would make it far easier for management to sack and discipline staff and more difficult to get proper representation.
In preparation for these new procedures management have gone on a discipline frenzy. At the Morden depot alone, four drivers have recently been demoted to station assistants and a driver has been sacked.
Andy Reed, ASLEF's national organiser, has accused London Underground (LUL) of: "Ignoring agreements, imposing change without negotiation and inflicting excessive punishments".
The sacking of the Morden driver was the last straw for the drivers at this depot. He was sacked for one instance of a signal passed at danger in aggravated circumstances.
The usual punishment for this kind of error would be a two-year final caution. At worst he would be demoted to Station Assistant for a couple of years. Everyone agreed that this punishment was harsh and unfair.
This driver is a member of ASLEF, so everyone expected his union to immediately call mass depot meetings and to ballot for action to get him reinstated. Most of the drivers at Morden are members of RMT but there is a tradition of not crossing each other's picket lines. They have a history of fighting to get unfairly dismissed workers reinstated.
But ASLEF left it so late that even if they balloted, all avenues for reinstatement would have been exhausted before anything was done.
The drivers decided to call a depot meeting themselves and called a strike for 9 January to coincide with the second strike by RMT station staff. They called for the depot to respect station staff picket lines. On the first station staff strike on New Year's Eve dozens of drivers had respected the picket lines, resulting in the Northern Line being one of the most disrupted.
Before the strike on 9 January, Morden drivers toured stations telling staff that drivers at Morden would be on strike too, boosting their confidence.
On the strike day, by 8am 18 stations on the Northern Line had been shut down and management were only able to run a 40% train service. This is because many drivers at the other depots had respected picket lines. Management were only able to run four trains from Morden. They were only able to open stations by disregarding safety and using Revenue Inspectors, members of TSSA, as a mobile strike-breaking force, with some working excessive hours.
The press were apoplectic that the drivers had dared to take action. The Evening Standard was spitting blood. They had been stalking Rob Rankin, the sacked driver, for days.
They were encamped outside his house and following his family around. Rob told the strikers that he and his family were grateful to all who took action on his behalf.
Even if he didn't get reinstated he would never forget that the depot stood by him.
An Evening Standard journalist turned up to the picket line but no one would talk to her.
Senior managers came out throwing their weight about. They threw RMT flags to the side and asked everyone if they were station staff or train drivers - anyone who answered "train driver" would be arrested if they didn't leave.
After a short meeting the flags were replanted and the picket continued as normal.
These managers had overestimated the effect of their intervention, they had already sent out an email saying that the pickets had been withdrawn and to expect a more normal service in the afternoon.
It is good news that ASLEF have decided to ballot. RMT drivers are being balloted for action short of a strike in order to refuse to work on the grounds of safety during station staff disputes.
But these disputes should not be kept separate. The union head offices should take a leaf out of the book of the Northern Line workers and co-ordinate the disputes for our mutual benefit. The RMT should also ballot on the disciplinary processes.
New station staff rosters are due to be implemented by 5 February. Clearly those workers need to take action before then. Every underground worker should support their action. For a train drivers' strike to succeed, RMT drivers would have to respect ASLEF picket lines.
London Mayor Ken Livingstone has declared war on the tube unions, both ASLEF and RMT. It is urgent that everyone stands united.
AS WE go to press, a deal on station staffing has been announced. The RMT leadership is recommending acceptance of the deal in a ballot of 4,000 RMT members. The ballot result is due at the end of the month. More details in a future issue.
In The Socialist 19 January 2006: