London Underground: Why We Are Working To Rule

RMT MEMBERS on London Underground will start a 48-hour work to rule on Tuesday 9 December unless the latest negotiations are successful.

A London Underground RMT member

All grades will take part in the action but the most significant effects will be felt as a result of drivers refusing to exceed 25mph. The action is being taken in protest against falling safety standards as a result of PPP (the privatisation of the tube’s infrastructure).

Since preparations for PPP began track inspections have been cut back, leading RMT to demand a return to inspections of all tracks every 24 hours. In addition the union is demanding that all inspections are carried out by experienced staff, employed directly by London Underground and that speed restrictions can be introduced without delay wherever problems are found.

This action by RMT follows two recent derailments on the tube and although investigations are continuing into the Camden Town crash the cause of the Hammersmith derailment has been clearly identified as a broken rail.

In response to this union members voted by a massive 81% for the work to rule, while 55% also supported a call for strike action. Socialist Party members working on the tube have argued that any attempt by management to take action against staff working to rule should be met with an immediate call for strike action.

There has also been a debate within the union about whether to introduce an indefinite work to rule. Many members feel that the only way to reduce risk to staff and passengers travelling on privatised tube tracks is to maintain speed restrictions until the union’s demands are met. Many activists will argue for such an escalation in the dispute if London Underground does not meet our demands.

Unlike previous strikes against PPP, the demands put by RMT this time around make it all but impossible for London Underground to meet them without tearing up the PPP contracts and bringing maintenance back in-house. Members and officials of the union now need to discuss what level of action will be necessary to win this campaign and develop the tube into a safe and efficient public service.

New revelations prove drivers’ action was right

ON 25 October the socialist reported exclusively on action that Piccadilly line train drivers took for safety after the Hammersmith derailment.

A Guardian article on 27 November, containing leaked emails between London Underground’s safety director and the Railway Inspectorate, completely vindicates these drivers.

The drivers believed that the track could not have been properly checked overnight when management decided to open the whole line for normal running. There was nothing put on notice boards, management carried on as though nothing had happened.

So about 15 drivers on the early shift at Acton Town decided on a go-slow to highlight their concerns. They drove at 15 mph.

Afraid that this action might snowball, Mike Strzelecki, LUL’s safety director, was forced to discuss with the drivers personally. Management then introduced some speed restrictions.

Strzelecki gave assurances to the drivers, including saying that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) had given the line a clean bill of health. Although the drivers were deeply suspicious of Strzelecki’s replies they believed their point had been made.

The Guardian reported that Strzelecki’s statements at this meeting angered the HSE. Caroline Wake, the railway inspector responsible for this stretch of line: “Complained that Mr Strzelecki had overstated her view on how safe the track was, misleading passengers and staff.”

“Evidence obtained by us subsequently indicates that there may indeed have been concerns about the condition of the track in this general area…”

Strzelecki was rebuked for the letter sent to the train operators two days after the accident, in which he claimed: “The railway inspectorate were convinced that the track was safe for a restart of the Piccadilly line service.” He has been forced to apologise.

The HSE report blames the derailment on cost-cutting and shoddy repairs. The broken rail had been deteriorating for at least two years. The drivers’ action has opened a Pandora’s box for the management and it has been a boon to the union’s safety campaign.