Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/200/8456
Tube strike shuts down London
ON 29 March, London Underground was again brought to a halt by striking workers in the Aslef and RMT trade unions.
Bill Johnson, London Underground worker
Twice now, tube workers have voted overwhelmingly for strike action against privatisation. Twice the leaders of one union capitulated to legal threats. Twice workers have shown that, official or not, strikes can shut down the tubes.
Our first strike on 5 February went ahead, despite RMT's executive calling off its action after management ran to the courts. This time Aslef's general secretary threw in the towel at the first whiff of a solicitor's letter.
The success of these strikes proved that tubeworkers will fight against privatisation, which if imposed would jeopardise safety and transfer workers' jobs to less secure private firms.
Every demand we've made in this dispute aims to maintain a safe tube network. The government wants to hand responsibility for maintenance to the same private firms who've failed on the mainline railways.
These firms will entrust safety to the cheapest sub-contractor they can find. Tube-workers demand that maintenance is kept in house and done by experienced engineering workers.
But management now aim to smash the tube unions. To its credit RMT held firm before the second strike despite new legal threats. Management now threaten to sue the union for £3.5 million.
Managers talk of 'breaking' the RMT. The tube unions have resisted wage cuts and attacks on working conditions far more effectively than has been the case in many other industries. Bus drivers' pay was slightly higher than tube drivers' before bus privatisation - today it's only half of what London Underground pay.
For private firms to make bumper profits, the government reckon tube pay must be slashed and work transferred out of London Underground to the cheapest bidder.
Tubeworkers must now discuss how to escalate our action unless privatisation is scrapped. We must not lose the momentum built up so far. Public support is being maintained because the effects of privatisation on the mainline railways are clear.
We must build on that support and show privatisation's real impact, higher fares for a worse service. We won't accept any transfer of jobs to private sub-contractors or the relegation of safety to corporate profit.
"No Hatfield on the tube"
"WE WEREN'T happy with ASLEF's decision to withdraw strike action," PAUL JONES, ASLEF branch secretary, Elephant and Castle, told us.
"We're not happy with the Public Private Partnership either. That's why there are no trains!
I'm here because I don't want myself or my colleagues to die at work.".
After a manager claimed on the radio that there'd be no job losses, Paul rang in and explained on air how Railtrack had cut mainline staff at the Wembley depot by half after privatisation, so the same will happen on the tube.
"We don't want another Hatfield on the tube", he added.
In The Socialist 6 April 2001: