Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/355/5866
London Underground strike:
Solid Action Can Be Built On
THE RAIL, Maritime and Transport Workers Union (RMT) has responded to a derisory pay offer to tube workers with its best supported strike in years. Only two lines ran any sort of useable service and even then at reduced frequencies. Overall LU ran 20% of trains at best.
Bill Johnston, RMT London Underground
London Underground (LU) and the Metronet infraco (privatised infrastructure company) have offered tube workers a pay rise that could potentially be below inflation over two years. LU has tied any increase to demands for later weekend finishes; more 24-hour running with reduced bonus payments and agreement that future pay rises will be linked to unspecified performance targets. Metronet is also demanding a reduction in time taken off sick.
RMT is seeking an above inflation pay rise and a four-day working week, an arrangement that is already becoming common on national rail operating companies. The union's initial target is a 35-hour, four-day week while the longer term aim is a 32-hour week.
Many tube workers have to live some distance from work because of rents and property prices in London. Because of this and the difficult shift patterns involved most workers would prefer to work longer once they have made the effort of getting to work if this allowed an extra day off each week.
LU management have responded by dismissing this claim out of hand.
Instead of looking at more family friendly or socially acceptable working hours, management have said they are no longer prepared to introduce even a five-day, 35-hour week as recommended by a wages board in 1997 and again by arbitration two years ago.
Drivers already work a 35-hour week but station staff have now been told that a 35 hour week by July 2006 is only possible if RMT accepts new practices amounting to 1,000 job cuts that will destroy promotion opportunities for the lower-paid operational grades and leave staff working in intolerable conditions.
Last week's action was more strongly supported than any action that has been taken by RMT without the official backing of Aslef (Aslef represent just over half of LU drivers while RMT represent the remaining drivers and all other station and engineering grades.) Many Aslef members distinguished themselves from the rotten leadership of their union by refusing to cross picket lines.
A meeting of all RMT reps will take place on 8 July to discuss RMT's next move. Unless management withdraw their productivity demands and make a serious offer on pay and hours then members are left with no alternative than to take further strike action.
"We're Angry At The Bosses And Livingstone"
"MANAGEMENT ARE trying to change our framework agreement. The deals they are trying to offer take a lot off us and give nothing back.
Sean, striking RMT member at Acton Town tube station
There is a lot of concern about the pay, job losses and productivity issues. It's the whole lot put together that has got members angry.
At present we can start duties between 4.45 in the morning and finish at 1.30 in the morning. They are trying to get us to start earlier and later on a Friday and Saturday night.
They don't want to give us any enhanced payments for doing this and they're not concerned about the safety of the drivers and staff trying to get home at these times.
I'm a driver and they could base us anywhere on the network - going as far as Rickmansworth on the Metropolitan Line or out to Upminster on the District line.
We are concerned about the strings attached to the pay. Under the new policy we could lose the current enhanced payments we get for working on New Year's Eve and other holidays, which could be replaced with a flat payment.
I was disappointed, along with the members, when the action was called off on 10 June. But the mood has been solid and we are extremely annoyed at Ken Livingstone. It's a shame to say it but he's not for working-class people anymore.
I think we now have to work more closely with all unions on the Underground and co-ordinate the action more."
In The Socialist 10 July 2004:
Workplace news and analysis
International socialist news and analysis