Tube strike: RMT strikers picket the London Underground, photo Paul Mattsson

Tube strike October 2010: RMT strikers picket the London Underground, photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

‘Hard lesson’ for tube management as driver wins reinstatement

On 23 June Arwyn Thomas, a victimised London Underground (LU) train driver was reinstated. This followed a long battle against a vicious management.

Arwyn spoke to Sarah Sachs-Eldridge, editor of the Socialist, to explain the background to this important victory.

I was one of four transport union RMT members who were summarily dismissed during last year’s strikes in defence of 800 jobs. After the second strike, a number of strike-breakers made allegations against me and I was dismissed.

My union believes I was dismissed because I was carrying out trade union duties on the strike day. Before I was sacked we balloted for industrial action at my depot.

The Bakerloo line were balloting for action at the same time, as one of their drivers, Eamonn Lynch, had been dismissed.

So we wanted to coordinate the strikes. The Bakerloo line was brought to a stop and my depot was very solid.

But it was clear that management would not be forced to move on the basis of local strikes. We did plan a third strike but there was an injunction against the RMT on the Docklands Light Railway which made striking virtually impossible.

Eventually we managed to overturn that injunction but it did mean that that third strike was called off. We asked the union to ballot all the RMT drivers on LU.

That was a very brave decision because it’s easier to put strikes on locally for injustices or unfair dismissals because people know you personally. It’s harder to escalate it wider.

The RMT train grades committee expanded itself into a strike committee to take decisions about how to run the strike. The ballot was done meticulously.

Whoever got a ballot paper was asked to vote ‘yes’ and everybody was accounted for. We got a 2:1 vote in favour of strike action from all the RMT train drivers on LU, which was a terrific achievement.

We then put on two periods of four days of strike action. This really stirred things up.

Management had been ignoring the union and saying there was no way they were going to reinstate Eamonn or me.

This brought management back to negotiations. They then signed a deal for the re-engagement of Eamonn Lynch and negotiations around a way to reinstate me before I went to employment tribunal.

But when those negotiations took place, management reneged on the decision to reinstate me. They offered me quite substantial compensation but I refused it.

Eamonn and I were not fighting for compensation, we were fighting for reinstatement. If either of us had been compensated then the principle of discrimination for trade union duties would be established.

The RMT had called off the strike on the basis of what was promised so we had to rebuild the action. Again the strike committee did a fantastic job building support.

We put on a strike that just affected the night crews. That was put on just to maintain the strike mandate because it would have run out on 20 June.

We then announced another four days of strike action. I think that had the strike gone ahead it would have been very successful.

The RMT would have been solid and I believe that we would have seen a substantial number of Aslef members respecting the picket lines.

In the meantime I won my tribunal for unfair dismissal and management came back to negotiate. I was reinstated yesterday [23 June].

There are a number of flies in the ointment but nonetheless it was a terrific victory. The four who were summarily dismissed during the strike are all now back at work.

That’s a great victory for the RMT. It shows that LU workers will never tolerate unfair dismissals and victimisation of their union activists and reps.

Management have learned a very hard lesson and the RMT has come out stronger. We timed the strike so that the dates would incorporate 30 June.

I think the fact that we would have gone on strike then enormously strengthened our hand. I’d like to see this victory as the first victory of the 30 June movement.

This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 27 June 2011 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist under the title First Victory for 30 June movement.