A member of Finsbury Park RMT looks at the London Underground (LUL) dispute and the role of the unions on the Tube
Once again it is nearly a year since we should have had a pay rise. It has been settled after a protracted campaign led industrially by the RMT while the other unions maintained a deafening silence (apart from a certain union leader who encouraged his members to scab in the summer).
Thanks in part to the failure of these other unions to unite with RMT in a fight for something better, we have ended up with a two-year deal which is an insult to all of you who have worked hard to deliver a railway which continues to win industry awards – awards which are happily accepted by top management who bask in the glory whilst wielding a heavy stick in the workplace.
As usual, rumours have been doing the rounds concerning the dispute. Here are the facts. In terms of trying to get the pay settled our Union could not have done more. We put in an early claim in 2008 (with the anniversary date being April 2009) yet management did not even respond to it until February 2009 when they made their first derisory offer. They then launched a propaganda assault to convince staff that, due to the recession, this was the best offer they could table.
Not surprisingly, they failed to mention the millions which could have been saved by getting rid of expensive ‘consultants’, overpaid senior managers (we are not sure what 90% of them do!), and scrapping the disastrous PPP. It was clear very early on that talks were getting nowhere, so we embarked upon a ballot for industrial action. The members returned a clear mandate for action. Rather than respecting this mandate the bosses ran to the courts and used the antiunion laws, claiming that there were discrepancies in the union’s membership records.
This claim was totally spurious and irrelevant because management know where every one of their workers is employed and all members of the union were being balloted! This running to the courts by the bosses is now a regular feature of industrial relations; rather than attempt to resolve disputes, management try to frustrate the democratic wishes of our members by running to the men in wigs.
Predictably, LUL got the decision it wanted from the court. However, we updated our records, reballoted and gained another strong mandate for industrial action which we used to try and settle the dispute by negotiations. The offer on the table at this time amounted to about 1000 job cuts and a five-year pay cut. However, talks at ACAS went so well that, on the eve of the strike in June, Bob Crow was ready to sign an agreement with LUL. This was scuppered at the last minute by an act of political interference from the Mayor’s office and the deal was taken off the table. Despite our union’s attempt to solve the dispute through negotiations, the political establishment were spoiling for a fight.
It was around this time that the ASLEF General Secretary (what’s his name again?) was telling his members to scab and cross picket lines. At Seven Sisters depot, managers were enlarging ASLEF notices and putting them in management notice cases encouraging members to scab! Thankfully, and to their great credit, many ASLEF members respected our picket lines and our branch salutes their principled support. Sadly, it appears that ASLEF’s leadership is determined to oppose any sort of unity with the RMT, even to the extent of damaging the interests of its own members.
In the teeth of management propaganda and intensive efforts to undermine us, a heavy BTP presence on picket lines, a hostile media and political establishment, we carried out one of the most successful two day strikes in history which actually got stronger on the second day when all our enemies were hoping it would collapse. This action alone secured an assurance that no
RMT members would be made compulsorily redundant, saw management reduce their offer from 5 years to 2 years and meant that future talks would be more productive.
It was felt that more time should be allowed for talks to work but, as in the past, we have gained very little from this lull and have allowed the other unions to pretend that doing nothing was the best tactic; under strong head office recommendation, TSSA and ASLEF persuaded their members to accept it. The RMT leadership and reps did not feel that the current deal was as good as we could achieve so, with an eye on the anti-union laws, we reballoted our membership on the latest two year offer. Due to a combination of factors, it appears that the call for strike action was not supported by a sufficient proportion of the membership. The executive committee of the union also decided that action short of a strike would not, on its own, secure a better deal.
There are concerns about the way in which the dispute was concluded. These will be fully aired at the Regional Council meeting on 28th January at the Somers Town Community Centre at 1630 which you should attend if you want to find out more or take part in the debate (ask your rep for more details).
The deal on pay is 1.5% for 2009 and the RPI figure for February plus 0.5% in 2010.
Currently RPI is at 0.3%. Therefore we are certainly looking at a rise of under 2% per year on average for the duration of the deal. Given that the real rate of inflation is higher than the government’s RPI figure, we are really swallowing a pay cut. Back pay however should arrive in the February pay packet.
Every time you turn the TV on, politicians are competing to be the party of cuts and pay restraint. They have let the bankers run amok and nearly bankrupt the country and now, rather than punishing them and the people who have got rich from this system, they want to slash jobs and pay in the public sector while allowing the fat cats who got us into this mess to return to their champagne and cigar lifestyle. This means that, whichever party gets elected in the summer, they will want you to pay and this means not getting a fair pay rise in the foreseeable future. This means the pay you get will stay about the same and may go down with increased taxes to pay for the mess. Unless we do something about it.
The major concession we got out of management was on jobs; certainly no operational members have been made redundant thus far, but what can we expect in the future?
At the time of writing, management are undertaking a review of their costs, in particular, staff costs. This means jobs, the way we do our job and the tools we are given to do our job. They are also driving towards skeleton staffing levels in train depots by removing team talks from rosters (cutting 35 drivers across the combine), leaving vacancies unfilled on stations and in other areas, and they are sacking members for disciplinary issues which previously would have resulted in only a warning.
Your job and the way you do your job will be coming under attack. Management want another company plan.
Another major cost for LUL is the pension that you are working towards and deserve. In fact, at a pay meeting this time last year, Howard Collins (COO) was on record as saying that they cannot afford current benefits. Therefore, it is likely that this is another hard-won condition that management will be looking to grab. Unless we do something about it.
WHAT IS THE ANSWER?
It is a fact of life that whatever job you do on LUL and whatever union you are in (or even if you are not) the only reason you currently enjoy today’s pay and benefits is because of the previous struggles and arguments advanced by the RMT.
Companies, including ours, don’t pay any more than they have to. Some of the better deals that have been achieved in the past were gained when workers united and unions worked together.
So what of TSSA and ASLEF, and what are the chances of working together? Every year RMT writes to both unions and asks them to amalgamate with the RMT. The present divisions benefit management by allowing them to play one union off against another. We want to end these false divisions in the interests of all London Underground staff.
Imagine what could be achieved by a single strong, united and democratic union, fighting for the very best terms and conditions commensurate with the hard work we all give to the company. That should be the goal of any worker with an ounce of common sense; at the moment, RMT is alone among the transport unions in striving towards this goal. To belong to RMT is to be part of the answer; to belong elsewhere is to be part of the problem.
As a union, we could take a similar approach to the others and try to cosy up to management and say nothing. What would happen if we took that approach? Managers, who already feel confident after the last pay round, would ensure that your union is silenced in the work place. You would be more easily disciplined, more easily bullied, more easily persuaded to work outside your hours, more easily sacked. In short, your life at work would become miserable. At the same time, you will get no pay rise or even a pay cut, jobs will go (limiting promotion prospects), and your excellent pension scheme will quite likely be shut down as has happened to many schemes in recent years where staff were in weak unions or in no union.
You may just want to come to work, get paid and keep your head down, but management have other plans for you. And they have these plans whether you like it or not, so there’s nothing to be gained and much to lose by sticking your head in the sand. The only alternative is to build the union and be prepared to support it when it calls on you to take action to defend and improve your terms and conditions. This means encouraging every worker in your area to join the RMT and support your local rep and make sure they are working in your interests. This means trying to attend your local branch meeting (see notice board for details) or getting more involved in what it is doing to make our organisation more effective. We remain ready to work with the other unions when they support our approach and defend their members but we cannot rely on them. Contact your local rep or branch officer for more information on how to get involved. Your job may depend on it.