Pay Fight Back On: Dust Off Those Picket Armbands!

Posted in Tubeworker's blog on Wed, 07/10/2009 - 13:44,

It looks like the fight for a decent pay rise could be on again, after a big meeting of RMT reps yesterday voted unanimously to reject the offer and renew the campaign. Despite concerns about some staff wanting to ‘swallow’ what everyone knows is a rubbish offer, and despite the pathetic inaction of the other unions, the majority of reps said that their members were either ready to take action, or could be convinced to.

So with RMT leaders (some more than others) previously convinced that there was little will among staff to fight over pay, why is it now clear that there is such a will?

Firstly, union leaders – and some reps– may have under-estimated members’ belligerence. It wouldn’t be the first time.

Secondly, regional officials and activists have provided a constant supply of information drawing staff’s attention to how poorly LUL’s offer measures up against what other railworkers are getting, and against real inflation. Everyone now knows that this paltry pay ‘rise’ is in fact a pay cut.

And thirdly, now that the issues of jobs and bullying have been ‘dealt with’ (whether satisfactorily or not), there is now just one, clear issue: pay. The clearer the issue, the less scope for management to muddy the waters, the more confident workers are to fight.

Tubeworker has long argued that it is best to avoid multi-issue disputes. In this case, the union had no choice but to fight on both pay and jobs, as management were (and still are) attacking us on both fronts. But while management bullying is a very real issue, there may have been better ways to fight it than simply including it in this particular strike ballot. The advantages of doing so seem to have been outweighed by the disadvantages – for example, our June strike, while overall a great success, was damaged by management circulating a lie that the only sticking point was two disciplinary cases.

The majority of reps also agreed that there should be a new vote of members in preparation for further action. This is the right thing to do, and in this writer’s view, that vote should be an industrial action ballot (for strikes and action short of strikes) rather than a referendum. Reasons:

  • Some areas are still weaker than others, and a ballot is a good way of reviving the campaign, compelling reps and officials to talk to, listen to, and explain the case for action to staff.
  • We would regain our legal mandate to take action short of strikes, so could combine such action – eg. overtime ban, work-to-rule, revenue boycott, etc – with further strikes. RMT’s leadership made a mistake in letting this mandate lapse.
  • Without a new vote, management, anti-strike unions and others will have a weapon to undermine the action, accusing RMT of lack of democracy. Although this would be highly cheeky (from management, who regularly impose policies and never hold votes; and from other unions, who rarely give their members the chance to vote to fight for anything much), it would have a damaging effect.
  • A ballot would be much better than a referendum because a referendum is much more passive, and as it contains no declaration to fight, could be seen as an invitation to give in.
  • There is a straightforward issue of democracy. Although a union obviously should not have to hold a new ballot following every development in a struggle, there has been a lot of water under the bridge since our original ballot, and members should now have the right to decide to carry on and step up our fight for better pay.
  • If the union named strike dates without a new ballot, there is a chance that LUL management could use the anti-union laws to get the strike banned on the grounds that the issues have changed and the length of time since the original ballot. Tactically, it makes sense to avoid this happening if possible!

However, with the legal timescales required for a ballot, RMT’s leadership must now get on with it! London Underground workers are sick and tired of pay campaigns dragging on and on, and although that is mainly management’s fault, the union has a responsibility to chivvy them along and get this sorted in time for Christmas!

And what of ASLEF? They now face a very stark choice: accept a crap pay offer, betray their members, and all for the sake of sucking up to management and keeping their true membership figures secret. Or join RMT in the fight. If it is the latter, then we will all be winners. If not, then RMT can and must press ahead with the fight regardless.

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