Suspending strikes is a misstep

Posted in Tubeworker's blog on Tue, 10/08/2021 - 16:32,
Cartoon graphic of a bowling ball hitting bowling pins

RMT has called off drivers' strikes against Night Tube grade consolidation, planned for 3-5 August. Whilst we respect the views of comrades who argued for suspension, we believe this decision is wrong.

LU has paused implementation of its grade consolidation plan, and has committed to further negotiations, over the next two weeks, to consider an RMT proposal for staffing Night Tube via voluntary links in depots. These are important steps, but as things stand, grade consolidation is only paused, not abandoned.

One argument made in favour of suspension is that, since LU has agreed to further talks, it would somehow be unreasonable to strike. We believe this fundamentally misunderstands what strikes are for. We should not see them as a regrettable last resort, only to be launched in extreme circumstances once management have refused to continue talks with our unions. The aim of strikes is to win improvements to working conditions, not simply to secure further talks. If we get into the habit of calling off strikes just because management commits to further talks, the bosses will soon learn that all they have to do to avoid strikes is promise more talks, and hey presto, we call off our action. It allows the bosses to string us along without actually having to accede to any of our demands.

Because LU has paused implementation and committed to consider and respond to a concrete proposal from RMT, the talks will have a specific and focused agenda. But they are, ultimately, still just talks. Management could easily say, after the two week period, “we've considered your proposal, and decided we don't like it. Sorry. We're now resuming implementation.”

Those defending suspension say: “well, in that case, we can strike later in the month.” RMT does have further strikes planned on 24-25 and 26-27 August, and Tubeworker has no doubt that, should management stonewall us in the further talks, reps and activists will do the work to ensure those strikes are solid. But calling off the first strikes makes their job much harder. Suspending action isn't cost-neutral, it demobilises people and educates union members to see strikes as something only ever threatened and never followed through on.

We also have concerns about the alternative RMT is proposing. The RMT's plan would see Night Tube duties staffed on a voluntary basis by full-time drivers, who elect to join a link (effectively, a section of a roster) in their depot that includes Night Tube. Although the voluntary staffing of Night Tube is certainly preferable to drivers being compelled to work night duties, this plan would still entail the abolition of the existing Night Tube driver grade, deleting a number of part-time jobs and closing off a line of promotion into the trains function for part-time station staff who need to retain part-time hours. RMT is pursuing its policy for no reduction in the overall headcount by demanding the deleted Night Tube driver jobs are replaced with an equivalent number of full-time posts. This would be an improvement, but Tubeworker believes part-time jobs should be retained.

Aslef has played a grubby role on this issue so far, initially opposing grade consolidation before becoming its loudest advocates. Full-time Aslef reps on the Trains Functional Council, some of whom haven't worked a shift in decades, colluded with management to cook up a rotten deal over the heads of their own members, and the large proportion of drivers who are members of RMT. We know many rank-and-file Aslef members oppose grade consolidation and the imposed increase in night working it would mean, and we have no doubt many would have respected RMT picket lines – and still will, if the next set of strikes go ahead. Joint action by members of both unions can force LU back.

Tubeworker encourages drivers who disagree with suspending strikes to get involved in their union branches to ensure their views are heard. This is best done alongside workmates who feel similarly, and, whatever happens with this dispute, more people getting active in their union is a positive thing in itself. But all of us, whatever our views on suspension, need to pull together over the coming fortnight to ensure we remain at battle stations – getting regular info out into depots and reminding members the 24-27 August strikes remain on.

If the talks don't lead to LU backing down, those strikes must go ahead.

Tubeworker topics
Trade Unions

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