Jobs/Pay/Justice Dispute 2009

RMT Throws in the Towel - Without Even a Mandate

Published on: Wed, 23/12/2009 - 19:20

Many RMT reps and members are shocked at the union's decision to accept the company's pay offer that until that point it had told us was "unacceptable", and to do so the day after a ballot result in which over 3,000 members voted for action short of strikes against it.

There were positive things about the dispute - the fact that June's strike actually happened, the positive organising role of the strike committee, the concessions that we forced out of management. And obviously, the other unions' pathetic refusal to fight had a very negative effect. But RMT's potential to win more was squandered by foot-dragging and other mistakes from the union's leadership. Everything RMT's national leadership has done wrong during this dispute has been when they have made decisions behind our backs - ignoring or stalling decisions of mass meetings and reps' meetings, thinking they know best. Now, after pulling out the stops to scupper our campaign, they didn't get the crap result they hoped for and so have ignored it.

This shows contempt for the idea that we should have a say in how our own dispute is run. The national leadership has never once argued that this strike should be called off for x, y or z reason; if they had, they could well have persuaded a majority in the region to throw the towel in because there wasn't a great mood out there. At the meeting on Monday night (poorly-attended, partly because of the weather), those attending spoke honestly about their views. The lack of honesty was from our Executive rep, who did not tell us that he was considering accepting the pay offer, and whose attitude seems to be that he doesn't need to share his thoughts with us because he is the elected official and it's up to him what he does. Instead, we got fobbed off with a grandstanding speech about how we need to smash the anti-union laws, etc.

Whatever you think about how the dispute should or should not have continued, for the Executive to take this decision without even trying to consult or secure a mandate from the members or reps is very undemocratic. Many reps are upset, and bemused as to how they got no say in this and how they are supposed to explain this to their members. Reps and activists feel used by the Executive - expected to work their nuts off for a ballot, only to see its result ignored without even a discussion. Reps and activists told members to vote honestly in this ballot; this is their democratic voice and RMT is a democratic organisation. To then be ignored just disempowers people.

When TSSA and RMT called off the casualisation dispute a year and a half ago, it was so that we could "regroup and rally ourselves for future battles". Now this dispute has been abandoned for the same reason. Will we call of the next dispute for the same reason again?! Unless we examine the failings in the leadership of this dispute, we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes.

We need to fight really hard now for democracy in our disputes. There is a different way to run disputes.

1. We need to go in them to win. We can't have another one or two days' strike and then stop. Action must be not just for the sake of it, but part of a winning strategy.

2. A ballot is not a form of action in itself. When people vote yes it should be because they agree and are prepared to do something about it. 'Yes' has to mean 'yes' because if they can argue it is just a 'yes' out of loyalty to the union, then the leadership can ignore it more easily. A union should not argue for a Yes vote just on the basis of loyalty or 'for the union', but on the issue and the strategy in question at the time. Union members need to feel they have a sense of ownership over what it does.

3. A few years ago, some disputes were won with one day of action then a deal cooked up behind the scenes, or just won with the threat of strikes. Our managment won't play that game now. We need to fight hard, to go for it, take several days' action. It's not that we want to make members suffer, but it's just the reality. Look at the Leeds bin workers, the posties (who even with 14 days action still didn't win). When oher workforces that are fighting are taking several days, how can we screech that we may have to lose 2 day's money?

4. We should no longer allow a dispute to drag on all year, with the national leadership slowly suffocating it and then finally putting it out of its misery. We shoud act quickly, effectively and decisively: if we win, great; if we don't, then move on - not drag on.

5. We need to assert democratic structures through which members and reps get to give opinions, and which the national leadership must listen to.

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Weak Leadership from Unions in Pay Fight

Published on: Wed, 02/12/2009 - 16:42

It’s a good job that Tube workers and rank-and-file union reps are up for a fight about pay - because it does not look much like our union leaders are. First, TSSA accept the paltry, pay-cutting offer, then ASLEF’s leaders overturn the decision of their own reps’ meeting and recommend it in a referendum. Now RMT’s leaders send out ‘Vote Yes’ publicity for the union’s industrial action ballot which could not be more lukewarm if it tried.

Monday morning’s text message began ‘New offer received from company in pay dispute’, leading many members to believe that LUL had put more money on the table, when it most definitely has not. The only ‘new’ offer is an extension of the inadequate medical redeployment offer. Then comes the letter with the ballot papers, which suggests we vote Yes, *if* we think we deserve better pay. There should be no need for ifs or buts - we *do* deserve better pay, and our union leaders (who got a 2.5% pay rise this year) should tell us that they think so too. Oh, and we once again have the falsehood repeated that LU’s offer on medical redeployment guarantees any a job - it doesn’t.

However, despite this woolliness from up top, RMT members are voting Yes/Yes for industrial action (nor forgetting to vote Yes twice, so we have a mandate for both strikes and action short of strikes), and ASLEF members are busily voting No in the Society’s referendum. So the leaderships’ desire for a peaceful New Year may yet not come true.

It all goes to show that when trade union leaders are not prepared to lead a fight (in TSSA or ASLEF’s case - in RMT’s case, it’s more like prepared only to lead in a half-cocked way), then the rank and file must. This year, when rank-and-file workers have had any control over the pay and jobs fight, then it has gone quite well and made progress. When head offices have taken the reins, it has slowed down and lost direction and momentum.

One answer is to elect better leaders. But elections are some way off, and in any case, we have seen many people get into leadership and take up bureaucratic practices that they would have forcefully denounced previously! So we need more than better leaders - we need the rank-and-file to get organised, to assert ourselves, develop our confidence and strategies and make our leaders do what the members want them to. Tubeworker is a forum for doing just this - please email us if you would like to come to our meetings or get more involved.

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Anti-Union Laws Strike Again

Published on: Thu, 26/11/2009 - 08:26

Last month, an unelected, unaccountable, (probably) octogenarian, public-school-educated chap in a wig ruled that RMT's ballot for industrial action on EDF Powerlink was illegal.

It was something about the precise grade title of an engineer or a technician not being exactly "engineer" or "technician". Whatever the pretext, it was not a genuine reason but an excuse. The honourable wig-wearer was appalled that the slaves were getting restless and knew that his job was to slap them back into their places.

For the past thirty years, governments - at the behest of employers - have armed themselves with anti-union laws. Under the guise of 'fairness', they have created some of the most unfair laws you can imagine. The one that RMT fell foul of is a law that unions must give employers shedloads of information about the members they are balloting for strikes, so that the employer can as effectively as possible organise to break the strike - first by campaigning for a No vote, then by organising cover for strikers.

It's like having a law that if Accrington Stanley play Manchester United, then Accrington have to send United their full team sheet, complete with tactical plan and personal details of every player, and any mistake can get the match forfeited and United declared the winners!

Undaunted, RMT is appealing against this ludicrous, anti-working-class decision, and is reballoting its members at EDF Powerlink. It also double-checked its the information it was sending to London Underground for our pay ballot. The problem is that the double-checking took six weeks. There was no way that it needed to take that long, so RMT members are beginning to suspect that as well as being a genuine obstacle to unions organising ballots, the EDF ruling was also a convenient pretext for union leaders who wanted to slow the ballot down because they would rather it all went away. At least the ballot is now going ahead, but momentum has undoubtedly been lost.

The problem for workers is that when management see union head offices dragging their feet like that, they will not be inclined to offer us very much. Why should they?

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Trade Unions

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Chuck Out This Insulting Redeployment "Offer"

Published on: Thu, 12/11/2009 - 10:21

So London Underground has made an "offer" on the claim for a guaranteed job for anyone who becomes medically unfit to do their current job. But the "offer" is a joke. The unions should laugh at it and chuck it out of the window.

It will be portrayed by those who want to big it up as progress on the claim, but read it (click here) and you will see that it has more holes than a sieve.

Firstly, it only applies to drivers, and only to 25 of them. Other grades are justifiably furious about this. It is a straightforward act of discrimination and injustice. We must not fall for management's pathetic attempts to privilege one grade above others in order to divide the workforce against each other. RMT has demanded more talks on extending this offer to other grades and lifting the maximum number.

But there is a second problem. The offer is not a guarantee of an alternative job even for those lucky 25 drivers. It is merely an offer to help them get into the CSA grade, and then only if they meet the requirements. Surely, the majority of medical conditions that make you unfit to dirve a train also make you unfit to work on a station?! So it's the dole office for you ...

Of particular interest is the sentence "LUOH will assist with advice on reasonable adjustments, permanent restrictions and will clarify, prior to any offer being made, that the person's medical conditions will enable them to meet all the attendance and performance expectations of the job." The whole point of reasonable adjustments is that they include the possibility of not requiring someone to meet all the attendance and performance expectations of the job!

Further, there is no logical reason for the offer to specify that staff may be deployed into the CSA grade. What about other grades?! Someone who becomes medically unfit to drive a train may actually find an admin job, or ticket-selling, or some other job much more suitable than working on gatelines and platforms. As we already have people sent into the CSA grade as a punishment, CSAs are beginning to resent the implication that their grade is some kind of easy ride that anyone can do. In fact, it is a demanding and professional job that deserves more respect from our employer.

LUL already has a policy (known as 'redeployment'!) that assists people into alternative positions if they develop medical problems but does not guarantee them such a position. It seems to Tubeworker that this "offer" goes no further than that, and by restricting it to just 25 drivers, is actually a step backwards.

Our unions spent a large part of this year haggling with London Underground management about whether an agreement which was crystal clear ("no compulsory redundancies ... applies to all employees") actually means what it says. We have had to fight to defend agreements that give specific guarantees to staff. So no way should the unions accept an offer than gives no concrete guarantees to anyone, even if it does get extended to an unlimited number of staff in all grades.

PS. Also, the money on offer is still crap.

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Comments

Submitted by Tubeworker on Wed, 18/11/2009 - 08:39

Dear Tubedog

The more I hear about humans the less I understand them. It seems that being ill is almost a crime in the human world. Unless you are one of the lucky tube drivers which is the same grade as Dog Guard First Class if for no fault of your own you find yourself unable to do your old job you will not be guarenteed to get a new one.I know the canine world is not perfect and we used to have problems in Grandfather Greyhound's day at least we dogs have moved on.

Maybe we should have a meeting with a police and guard dogs, with show dogs, running dogs of all types even with family and house dogs and work out how we can help these humans. As good socialists we must not be too doggist.

Just think what would happen if all human transport workers and all dogs went on strike at the same time. It would cause utter chaos. I'd love to be on the picket line. So maybe you could ask Barking branch about a possible ballot.

Yours in solidarity Sapdog

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Why Are We Waiting?

Published on: Mon, 09/11/2009 - 19:10

Nearly five weeks ago, RMT reps met to discuss 'where next?' with the LU dispute, spoke broadly in favour of a re-ballot and voted unanimously to reject the pay offer. Over five weeks ago, RMT's executive decided to re-ballot.

And since then? Rank and file reps have put out posters saying, 'RMT will be balloting you soon', but we've hardly had a word from RMT's leadership on when this will happen. It should have been last week, but as far as we know, it won't even be this week.

All LU industrial reps were released to have an input into that meeting. It looked like the dispute was regaining some of the openness and democracy which began the year and disappeared mid-dispute some time in the Summer.

RMT's leadership will not openly tell reps and members that the course of action we advocated and they themselves have voted for (the re-ballot) is misguided. Their preferred option is to do nothing. As an alternative to arguing their case during the decision-making process, they just decide afterwards not to carry out the decision. It is an underhand and unaccountable way of doing things.

The leadership seems able to use their role of sending notice to the company and organising the re-ballot, necessitated by the anti-union laws, to control disputes, even when the rank and file have input into the decisions.

It is becoming hard to sustain members' interest in the dispute. The delay does not create the mood that the fight is urgent. No doubt, when presented with a ballot paper, people will still vote the same way as long as the pay offer remains unchanged, but with less enthusiasm.

If the leadership are against a re-ballot, thinking it's born to fail, they are only exacerbating the problem the longer they wait and leave members out of the loop.

So, come on RMT, act on your decisions, and let's have some openness and communication with rank and file members, please!

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LUL Dispute: Vote Yes!

Published on: Tue, 20/10/2009 - 10:13

Following a meeting of all its LU reps, RMT has decided to ballot its members for strike action and action short of strike over the pay offer (1.5% this year, 0.5% next year).

This is our chance to have a say over our pay until 2011.

RMT is balloting for strike action because to simply reject the deal is not enough. We need to show LUL that there will be consequences if nothing improves.

The union needs to get on with the ballot and keep members informed. This dispute has dragged out too long already. The last thing we want is for our potential action to clash with Christmas. We don't want to upset working class people's last-minute shopping, but London's financial centre.

It is possible that anti-union laws may rear their head again and force us to have a long ballot period because the postal strikes will cause delays. This is another reason why we would want strike ballots in the workplace, yet another thing prevented by Thatcher’s anti-union laws.

TSSA have accepted the offer but many TSSA members on Metronet report not receiving ballot papers. Ordinary TSSA members should join RMT's fight by respecting picket lines or signing up for membership, even if temporarily.

We wait to see whether ASLEF will accept LUL's offer. Either way, we need to appeal to ordinary ASLEF members: RMT should write an open letter to them, and call meetings open to all who are prepared to fight for a decent pay increase.

=====

On TfL, RMT has rejected the pay offer (1.5% this year, 0.5% for years two and three) but is a minority union. Some reps now just say ‘we need to work with the other unions’.

Although a minority, RMT should not behave as if it is ineffective and no different to other unions. Members joined RMT because it fights; it should not risk losing them.

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Pay Fight Back On: Dust Off Those Picket Armbands!

Published 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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Don't Let the Truth Get in the Way of Propaganda

Published on: Wed, 19/08/2009 - 15:01

LUL has today issued a circular stating that RMT has "announced the resolution of its dispute with us". Either RMT has closed off the dispute without telling its members (possible, but unlikely) or LUL's Director of Employee Relations is lying (probable).

As Tubeworker understands it, LUL has confirmed that no RMT member will be made compulsorily redundant. This is a definite change from previously, when many RMT members were "at risk" - giving the lie to LUL's claim that "Our position has not changed - we made this clear before, during and after the RMT’s strike action in June." Desperate not to admit the truth that RMT's strike action saved its members' jobs, our Director is prepared to sink to the level of outright porky pies.

However, these facts also mean that the RMT press release welcoming "a major breakthrough in an on-going dispute with London Underground which will see the company sticking to agreed policies on redundancies, protecting the futures of a thousand staff who had been identified as being at risk" is also at best an exaggeration, at worst a departure from the truth.

At least RMT members are getting more accurate information from the Regional Organiser. But workers deserve better from their national leadership than Ministry-of-Truth-style spin which denies us the full picture in favour of a heavily-spun version. We are grown-ups: we can be trusted with the facts. And, as the people who lost two days' pay in order to win the victories we have achieved so far, we are entitled to them.

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Unite and Fight!

Published on: Wed, 19/08/2009 - 12:24

All Tube workers know at heart that if all our unions took united action over pay and other issues, we could win so much more. All unions have rejected LUL's crap pay offer and should stand together to fight it; so far only RMT is doing anything.

Many ordinary members of every union are baffled as to why we even have a choice of unions, when the disunity so obviously weakens us and benefits management. Tubeworker firmly believes that we should all be in one union, that unions to unite. We came close to this in 1913 when the National Union of Railwaymen, RMT's forerunner, formed by merging different grades' unions into one. ASLEF and the TSSA's forerunner opted out. And we haven't made much progress since!

But while one railway union may seem a pipe-dream, working together is an immediate necessity.

LU were hit hard by the RMT’s strike action in June, but were able to weaken morale and score propaganda points by running partial services with the assistance of other unions. How much more hard-hitting we could have been if we had taken united action! Five days of joint RMT-ASLEF-TSSA action on National Express East Anglia has just shown what united action can achieve in winning concessions from a company, like ours, who are being hard in the face of unions. They have won a 3.5% pay rise over two years and rights for agency workers, amongst other gains.

We look forward to a strong, united campaign to defeat a pay offer that insults us all. So Tubeworker welcomes RMT's decision to put pressure on ASLEF and TSSA to take action over pay. But if ASLEF and TSSA don’t jump on board, and their recent behaviour doesn’t give us much hope, RMT should be clear from the outset that it will fight alone if necessary. Yes, we are stronger together, but a large, all-grades union is not weak on its own.

RMT should be giving members confidence, not making its preparedness to fight conditional on the leaderships of other unions. The best way of encouraging unity in action is to take the lead and encourage others to follow.

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In The Dark

Published on: Fri, 14/08/2009 - 11:27

It seems that there may have been a breakthrough on the issue of compulsory redundancies and fresh talks at ACAS on pay - read RMT's circular here. However, details are as yet unclear. The shortage of definite information about what is going on with our dispute has been causing frustration among rank-and-file RMT activists.

While the real villains of the piece are obviously LUL management - helped by the do-nothing leaderships of the other unions - RMT's national leadership has let members and activists down by allowing the dispute to become clouded by uncertainty. The situation has shown once again that we need our disputes to be run more democratically.

RMT was dead right to go into this dispute, and to fight hard and promptly for the crucial issues of jobs, pay and justice. It is to the great shame of the other unions' leaders that they did not do the same. But RMT's national leadership has allowed momentum to drain from the campaign. When the ballot result came in, they refused to even consider a request from all branches in the region to listen to members at a mass meeting before deciding the first strike dates, and have since allowed the ballot mandate for 'action short of strikes' to lapse so that we no longer had the option of, say, an overtime ban. RMT's 29 July deadline to management to make concessions or face more strikes came and went with no declaration from head office. And just last week, it seems that the Executive agreed to announce new strike dates on Tuesday, but for three days after that, nothing was announced and there was no explanation.

Tubeworker would not claim that there has been 100%, universal, gung-ho, straining-at-the-leash enthusiasm among Tube workers for more and more strike dates. Workers feel under pressure and enthusiasm varies between different locations and grades. However, RMT members did vote 85%+ for strikes; June's strike was well-supported and effective; and while we did need to take some time afterwards to allow talks another chance and to reaffirm the issues and address weaker areas, we did not need to take this long, nor to slump into quietness. Rank-and-file activists have worked really hard to keep the pot boiling and keep workers informed - but without updates or decisions from head office, that effort becomes difficult and feels unsupported.

We can guess what is coming: Momentum has gone out of the fight, and those who caused the momentum to go out of the fight will say that we have to step back from taking more action.

If RMT has saved its members from compulsory redundancy, that is obviously a big win: and a proof that you only win by fighting, a lesson that the other unions should learn. But it is not the end of our battle. LUL's pay offer is miserably inadequate, its managers continue to bully staff, jobs are still under threat. It is time to think strategically about the next steps in pursuing this fight. Priority number one is that it be rank-and-file led, without secrecy and momentum-draining procrastination from those who insist on running the dispute on our behalf.

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