Significant victory for tube workers

RMT wins no compulsory redundancy position but future battles loom

London Underground (LU) has retreated in the face of RMT’s strike campaign. They have guaranteed that no RMT members will face compulsory redundancy as a result of the underground’s current cost review and organisational change programme.

An RMT member

Earlier in 2009, 3,000 workers received 90 day redundancy notices, warning them that their jobs were in danger of disappearing. LU stated publicly that around 1,000 redundancies would be required to cut costs after LU bailed out the failed privatisation (PPP) of Metronet, the private company created to run LU’s engineering and infrastructure operations.

The dispute hinged on LU’s refusal to recognise an agreement made with the unions in 2001. That agreement clearly stated that no employee of either LU or Metronet could be forced into redundancy. The agreement had been demanded by RMT (and Aslef – although that union has not been prepared to defend the agreement) because tube workers knew that PPP would lead to job losses and cost cutting. With no justification whatsoever LU has argued that the agreement is not applicable to the current situation.

While LU will not accept that redundancies are impossible under the 2001 agreement, they have now agreed that no RMT member will be forced into redundancy under existing proposals. This represents an important victory for all tube workers and should encourage the wider trade union movement.

Many high profile struggles during 2009 have necessarily been limited to winning redundancy payments for workers who’ve been made redundant through bankruptcy or plant closures.

The RMT, on LU, has achieved an impressive result by preventing compulsory redundancies in the current situation.

In spite of this, some activists have been calling for RMT to strike again until the employer concedes that redundancies cannot take place ‘in principle’. Members of left groups including the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL) have been arguing that if one tube employee faces redundancy then RMT has a duty to strike – even if that employee is not an RMT member. The SWP now appear to have pulled back in response to the agreement reached but reality has not been allowed to divert the AWL from its stand.

The argument of these lefts is rooted in a mistaken assessment of the impact of the current economic downturn. The downturn has undoubtedly set back the ideology of capitalism but this does not automatically give confidence to workers to strike over pay and conditions.

RMT members on the tube were prepared to fight to prevent compulsory redundancies but once it was clear that RMT members’ jobs were safe a further strike would not have been as successful as the action in June, which shut down 80% of services.

In the future, if the other tube unions make an appeal to the RMT for support against attacks on their members, then the RMT should give them that support.

Also it is inevitable that LU will come back at some point with new proposals to cut jobs and RMT will have to face up to this and be prepared to strike again. But trying to have that battle now, when the immediate proposal is for no compulsory redundancy of an RMT member, would be naive in the extreme and potentially lead RMT into a defeat.

It is important that tube workers see management’s failure to establish compulsory redundancies in practice as the victory for the workforce that it is.

RMT members should be proud of the action taken and members of other tube unions should ask their own leaders why RMT was left to fight the redundancies alone. After this result confidence should be boosted, not chipped away by misconceived talk of defeat.

The issue of pay and management abuse of disciplinary procedures remain areas of dispute. None of the unions that represent members on the tube have agreed the wholly inadequate offer of 1.5% this year and RPI plus 0.5% the next.

RMT is now discussing with the other unions and further talks at ACAS (the conciliation service) are planned between LU and all the unions.