Thirteen mistakes

Posted in Tubeworker's blog on Mon, 30/01/2006 - 15:12,

Before listing 13 key mistakes that Tubeworker thinks that RMT made during the stations shorter working week campaign, we need to make a few things clear. The blame for the cuts in staffing levels lies squarely with management, and behind them, the Mayor. RMT at least fought the cuts, whereas TSSA never even got out of the starting blocks (no change there, then). The existence of two unions to start with doesn’t help.

And let’s face it, we have finally got our 35-hour week, no-one has got a P45, and full-time staff now have 10½ weeks off each year.

None of the union’s mistakes is an excuse for scabbing, or for leaving the union. Instead, they are reasons to get more members and get more involved, so that we can be more effective in future.

Everyone knows that RMT’s campaign was flawed. If we do not look at these mistakes, then we will be doomed to repeat them next time round.

1. RMT painted up the original deal instead of telling its members the truth. RMT should have said: “It is a step forward to gaining a 35-hour week with no overall job losses, and it gives you 52 days off a year, so we recommend you vote for it. However, it also contains a re-rostering process which management will probably use to attack staffing levels. Vote for it now, but stand by to fight over its implementation.”

2. Having got the deal voted through, the union then seemed to disappear into negotiations without keeping the members informed. There should have been regular reports and updates.

3. Union officials spent too long in meetings, not long enough in the workplace. One problem here is full-time release, about which more elsewhere. Some level one reps organised local meetings and tried to get the negotiators along to report to members, but with limited success. Workplace meetings should have been organised systematically, and with the full support of the union.

4. RMT should have sounded the alarm about the negotiations sooner. It became clear quite early on that management were not negotiating in good faith. Many of the level one meetings were a joke. Yet the union continued to act as though everything could be resolved in talks.

5. The union should have sought to involve other grades earlier on. On the Piccadilly line, RMT stations reps drafted petitions for drivers and RCIs to sign opposing the cuts in station staffing levels - this could have been repeated elsewhere. Unfortunately, proposals from rank-and-file reps to involve other grades were initially dismissed by the union’s regional leadership, only to re-surface very late in the day with a last-ditch attempt to get solidarity action.

6. There should have been a campaign to publicise the issue and win support. As soon as it became clear that there were drastic staffing cuts that would affect passenger safety and service, the union should have produced leaflets, held public meetings, informed other trade unions etc. It did not. By the time we went on strike, there was still no leaflet for the public, which not only weakened our support in the face of hostile media coverage, but also demoralised workers. This should have been an issue – especially after the 7th July bombings – on which the public backed us. Instead, the union allowed the Mayor and the media to turn public opinion against us.

7. We should have gone into dispute earlier. Leaving it until late in the year meant that momentum was lost and people’s patience was beginning to wear thin. If you trumpet a deal as brilliant, then disappear from view for a year negotiating its implementation, then emerge from the talks and announce the need for a strike, then you miss out a lot of the groundwork that needs to be done to make that strike effective.

8. Striking on New Year’s Eve was a mistake. Our industrial action should be aimed at hurting the bosses, not other working-class people. Yes, there was an issue about the company expecting station staff to work without bonuses whilst other grades got extra dosh, but that issue was not worth the grief we caused ourselves by striking on that day.

9. The New Year’s Eve strike was poorly-organised.

10. There was not enough leadership and support for drivers, signallers and other grades to refuse to work on safety grounds during the stations strikes.

11. The union allowed management to divide the workforce. The way management sought to implement the deal created winners and losers. RMT should have told the winners about the losers and urged them to support each other.

12. The union did not appear to have a thought-out strategy of how to pursue this issue. That’s a constant problem with RMT – it holds talks, then uses strikes as protest gestures.

13. These mistakes having made the fight go a little off the rails, the union leadership then panicked and convinced itself that it needed to get out of the dispute as quick as possible. So it negotiated an inadequate deal.

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