Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/796/18064
Determined strikes can stop London Underground in its tracks
With the Olympics a fading memory, London Underground (LU) intends to implement the years of austerity that it had to forgo in order to keep tube workers onside for the games.
The consequences for staff and passengers are dire - 953 job cuts and every ticket office on the tube down for closure. Many workers face pay cuts of up to £10,000.
But LU's plans go much further than cost-cutting. Our boss is ultimately Mayor Boris Johnson and he is trying to position himself to lead a post-Cameron Tory Party.
Johnson hopes to defeat the National Union of Rail, Maritime & Transport Workers (RMT) in the same way that Thatcher defeated the miners, making his credentials irresistible to the Tories.
Cameron's government is also keen to see a defeat for the union that is widely seen as one of the most militant in Britain.
Chancellor Osborne told journalists that he cannot believe his luck that there has not been a more determined trade union response to job cuts and pay restraint but he knows it is coming. A defeat for the RMT would, the Tories hope, discipline the whole working class.
Conversely many workers, whether unionised or not, will want to see RMT defeat Johnson and the Tories' austerity policies.
A public campaign, 'Hands off London Transport', has been launched and many passengers are expressing support to tube workers in stations.
It is important that this campaign focuses on winning support for the union's strike action. Only determined strikes can stop LU in its tracks.
It is important to build public support for the union, which will increase the pressure on Johnson but public opinion will not win this battle.
LU aims to implement cuts over a seven year period. This opens up the possibility of a protracted war with the RMT and the other tube unions, TSSA, Aslef and Unite.
TSSA voted to join RMT in dispute over the first of the cuts to be announced, on stations.
It is essential that LU is not allowed to take on each section of its workforce in isolation. Given £4.2 billion of cuts are planned and the current proposals add up to £270 million, every grade of worker in every area of LU is under threat.
Only a united fightback can defeat Johnson and LU. A victory now for the unions could kill off LU's hopes of making the remaining cuts.
This dispute will be on a different scale to other recent disputes on the tube. The stakes are far higher and preparation for more prolonged and determined action is needed.
Members understand this, which is reflected in a bitterer mood, but also some trepidation. RMT is conducting local meetings and reps are visiting workplaces across the network.
This needs to be stepped up even further in the run up to strike action on 4 February. In particular national officers need to take a lead and help give confidence to members.
Developments in the past week have increased the chances of a strong show of support for the strike action by train drivers and other grades.
Information about a meeting where trainside managers were told about impending changes to drivers' contracts has leaked out leaving the drivers' union Aslef furious.
RMT represents many drivers but Aslef retains a small majority. Aslef members should be lobbying their union to join RMT and TSSA's dispute.
The involvement of all drivers would significantly swing the balance of forces towards the unions while Aslef would have a better chance of preventing the roll-out of attacks on their members by joining with the other unions now.
Engineers have also been threatened with 500 job cuts while both engineering members and those working directly for Transport for London (TfL) have been told that their pensions are under threat.
Pensions have the potential to become a major battleground in this war over tube funding.
Talks are now at Acas but LU continues to pretend that it has not identified where 94% of its proposed £4.2 billion cuts will be found.
With the announcement of TSSA's yes vote for action more pressure than ever is on LU to start meaningful negotiations.
RMT has put a counter proposal to avoid job cuts and office closures. We have called on LU to campaign for a restoration of the government grant, to reverse outsourcing and to cap senior pay. These measures could save more than LU's plans without cutting jobs or services.
Until the current cuts proposals are taken off the table and LU commits to negotiate seriously, then not only will the strikes on 4 and 11 February go ahead, each for 48 hours, but further action will be called.
In The Socialist 29 January 2014:
Socialist Party news and analysis
International socialist news and analysis
Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition
Stop London Underground cuts
Socialist Party workplace news
The Socialist readers' comments
Fight all cuts!
Socialist Party reports and campaigns