As if we weren’t already despondent, what with having the fantastic strike action undermined by scabs, only for RMT HQ to recommend a Yes vote on an unimproved offer … Lump this together with the grief over displacements and staffing cuts and we have had quite enough to deal with recently. Well, perhaps not urprisingly, LUL/TfL have smelt blood and are coming back for more.
The unions will have to rally our forces once more in the face of changes that management want to impose. In short, they wish to make it easier to sack YOU. They want to undermine the machinery of negotiation, which is there to provide checks and balances so that overpaid managers (keen as ever to justify their £40k+ salary) can’t simply get rid of people they don’t like or people who have the cheek to stand up to them.
Why is this happening? No mystery. LUL’s workforce is among the best-organised sets of workers around. Over the years, we have won advances by standing together and taking industrial action. In relation to many working-class people, we do OK – at least we are not forced to live on the minimum wage.
RMT membership is on the rise. It is the only all-grades union and is recruiting at all levels, including amongst contractors and cleaners. In the past, LUL has relied on the divisions between the unions to get their way. TSSA, for example, has never taken strike action, but their members never refuse the pay rises that RMT wins.
The Powers That Be are very concerned about the Olympics in 2012, and do not want to be held to ransom by the RMT. Between now and then, they will probably try every trick in the book to attack the union.
So what do we do? We do what we have always done. We stick together in spite of management, and we stand up for the interests of workers because no-one else will.
Only we try to do it a bit better this time. ASLEF and RMT are already in dispute with LUL about the new procedures. Learning from past mistakes, they should make sure that members are kept informed on the issues and any developments, and should explain our case to the public.
The two unions must work together. The strike ballots are already pretty messy, as ASLEF balloted, then RMT balloted its driver members, then it balloted the rest of us. Then ASLEF named dates for strike action, knowing that the first of them is too early for RMT non-drivers to join in. So, what happens on 21st February? Either we have a drivers-only strike, so we fire on less than our full capacity, or management offers a microscopic concession and ASLEF calls it off. Better than both of these options – put the first date back a few days so that it is an all-grades action.
The unions should ballot together, name dates together, negotiate together. No silly games to out-manouevre each other. Whether or not the head offices get their act together to do this, local reps and branches of the two unions should link up.
We should also draw up our own alternative proposals for attendance, harassment, discipline and machinery of negotiation. For instance, on attendance - no-one should be punished for any medically-certificated sickness. On discipline - the standards of justice in criminal courts would be a big advance on what we have now!
Perhaps most importantly, we need a strategy. We don’t have to rush into strike action. It is better to prepare well and do it properly than to rush in and rush out again in a panic. So let’s have a joint ASLEF/RMT reps’ meeting to thrash out how we are going to fight this battle and win.