LU bosses use coronavirus crisis to pinch pennies on pay

Published on: Mon, 23/03/2020 - 18:27

LU bosses have cynically exploited the coronavirus crisis to pressure unions into accepting a shoddy pay settlement that three out of four had previously rejected.

RMT has now accepted LU’s latest offer, of RPI+0.2% for 2019-2023, with guaranteed minimums of 1% and 2% in years three and four, after senior manager Peter McNaught issued unions with an ultimatum that, if they didn’t accept, it would be withdrawn and replaced with a worse offer. TSSA accepted last month, and Unite have now also accepted the offer. At the time of writing, Aslef had not yet formally accepted, but we understand they are likely to.

LU has used a global pandemic to avoid making further concessions on pay/conditions, showing again that the bosses are not suspending their side of the class struggle.

While we fully acknowledge the difficulty of the situation, and acknowledge that refusing to accept the offer would've been a gamble that could've backfired, Tubeworker still believes acceptance was wrong, and would’ve preferred our unions to hold firm in the face of this management blackmail. Now we need to use our anger at management’s cynical conduct to lay the ground for new battles, to be fought as soon as possible.

The deal runs to 2023, but we should not give the bosses three years of peace. We should prepare new, offensive disputes for the demands in our pay claims, ideally combine-wide, but function-specific if necessary.

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Keep your distance

Published on: Sat, 21/03/2020 - 16:35

While operational training is still going ahead, it’s unclear how the company plans to maintain social distancing on the front of a train cab. Instructors on a number of lines are already refusing to take anyone else in their cab at the current time. Tubeworker thinks they are right to refuse. The unions are meeting bosses on Monday to put this to them. But whatever the company wants Tubeworker thinks instructors should just refuse any cab rides or support for trainees in the cab environment. If that means sending trainees home on full pay then the company should do it.

In the meantime Ashfield House and other facilities are remaining open for classroom learning. If a single member of a class goes into self isolation there should be a guarantee that any training that is suspended or deferred is done with no loss of pay, particularly for workers who are not existing LUL employees and so cannot be expected to work operationally before their training is complete.

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LU pay/conditions: don't give up on our demands!

Published on: Sat, 21/03/2020 - 00:20

Aslef drivers, whose ballot returned on 12 March, voted by 95% on a 74% turnout for action over LU pay and conditions. RMT’s ballot is still ongoing, due to close on 31 March.

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the context, but we should not abandon our struggle over pay and conditions by accepting one of LU’s existing offers.

A pandemic does not make our demands for improved pay and conditions, especially improved work/life balance, any less pressing. In many ways, it makes them more pressing.

Organising strikes in the current context would not be viable or effective, but acknowledging that doesn’t mean that we have to give up our demands and accept one of LU’s existing, and entirely inadequate, offers.

RMT members must continue to cast their votes in the pay ballot, and the union should continue to communicate its demands to LU. As the crisis shows again how vital our labour is to the day-to-day functioning of London, we should not apologise for demanding improved working conditions.

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Aslef pay ballot smashes thresholds

Published on: Thu, 12/03/2020 - 13:46

Aslef members have voted by a 95.2% majority for strikes to win an improved settlement on pay and conditions, on a 74.5% turnout. These figures smash the arbitrary thresholds of the Tories' anti-union laws.

The RMT's ballot runs until 31 March. Unions should liaise, now, about the best timing for potential action. That will mean Aslef waiting until the RMT's ballot is returned before naming action, but that's a delay worth enduring if it means coordination action across all grades and functions.

RMT reps and activists are hard at work getting the vote out. Tubeworker urges all RMT members to vote yes!

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LU pay/conditions: strikes can win a better deal

Published on: Sat, 22/02/2020 - 19:37

Negotations with LU over pay/conditions have taken us as far as we can go. To win a deal that brings us closer to our demands, we need industrial action.

Aslef has already committed to ballot its members. Its ballot begins on 28 February and closes on 9 March. Tubeworker encourages all readers who are Aslef members to vote yes for action. RMT reps from across LU are meeting on 26 February to discuss next steps. RMT has chosen not to ballot up to now. We think that has been a mistake. The delay has allowed momentum to slip. But late is better than never, and if RMT now launched a vibrant, assertive campaign around an immediate ballot, that momentum could be rebuilt.

Some have argued that LU’s latest offer, for an RPI+0.2% pay increase for four years, is adequate. We disagree. A 0.2% increase (the “RPI” element only keeps our pay in line with inflation) is hardly anything to get excited about, and the offer includes no concessions of any of our other demands, including a reduction in working hours. As LU has now accepted the principle that any reduction in the working week would be facilitated via additional banked rest days, we should ask any workmates still wavering on this issue: why wouldn’t we want more time off work?

It’s regrettable that the talks have dragged on for as long as they have, but simply wanting to get them done is not a good reason to accept an inadequate offer. LU’s narrative is that we have a choice between two offers - the one it made in October, with 1.4% pay increases plus three additional banked rest days in years two and four of the deal, and the more recent “money only” offer. We say: we can win something better than both.

How many times have we heard LU say something is “full and final”, or absolutely set in stone, only to find that industrial action, or the threat of it, pushes them back? The threat of action by drivers over excessive track noise led to the discovery of an additional £10 million for track work; the threat of strikes by fleet workers forces LU to scrap a “full and final” plan to cut train maintenance; and a 2017 strike by station staff forced the reversal of 325 job cuts.

With GLA and Mayoral elections due on 7 May, we have some additional leverage. Mayor Khan will not want Tube strikes in the run up to this election, especially as he’s boasting about having reduced them! This will create additional political pressure on our bosses to get a deal done. For RMT to hit the thresholds required by the anti-union laws in a combine-wide ballot of its entire membership will be a challenge, but it can be done. In 2015, the last time RMT balloted combine-wide, both a 50%+ turnout and a 40%+ yes vote were achieved. Had the thresholds been imposed at that time, we would’ve cleared them.

Ultimately, we are faced with a choice between giving up, accepting our employers’ disingenuous and hypocritical pleas of poverty (no money to fund a shorter working week, but enough money to pay senior bosses eye-watering salaries?), and take a deal that keeps our pay in line with inflation, but nothing more. Or, we can decide to fight, and at least give ourselves the possibility of winning something better. We can win a substantially above-inflation pay rise, and a meaningful reduction in working hours, but we need to be prepared to fight for it. Let’s do that.

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Lillie Bridge engineers: ballot now on LU pay!

Published on: Sat, 22/02/2020 - 18:36

In debates within the union about whether RMT should ballot over LU pay/conditions, some have cited the alleged unwillingness of members in non-operational grades to do so as an impediment.

But that’s certainly not the case at Lillie Bridge egineering depot in west London. A recent workplace meeting to discuss LU pay resulted in a strong consensus for a ballot. A report from the meeting said: "After the situation was laid out by the reps [...] spontaneous shouts of 'ballot, ballot, ballot!' broke free from the workforce." The meeting was attended by P-Way workers, track welders, and workers from ultrasonics, lubrication, and track workshops.

So, rather than looking for reasons not to fight, let’s try to generalise the spirit of the Lillie Bridge engineers!

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Aslef launches ballot

Published on: Tue, 11/02/2020 - 15:23

Aslef has announced a ballot of its members on London Underground, over pay and conditions. The ballot opens on 28 February, and closes on 9 March. Aslef is a minority union across LU as a whole, but a majority amongst drivers. One of its key demands in pay negotiations thus far has been for a driver-specific salary increase, to bring LU drivers’ pay in line with that of mainline train drivers. Along with all other unions organising in LU, Aslef has also demanded a reduction in the working week.

An Aslef statement said that the union could not “accept a sub-standard offer that gives our members no guarantee of a pay rise for the next two years and does nothing to reduce the working week or close the pay gap with other train operating companies.”

TSSA has already accepted LU’s latest offer, for a RPI+0.2% pay increase each year from 2019-2023. RMT and Unite remain in dispute.

Aslef’s ballot asks a pointed question of RMT, which has held back from balloting thus far. Tubeworker believes RMT should have balloted months ago; delaying has only made the challenge of delivering ballot thresholds across a large membership harder. But that challenge must now be met.

RMT will not be able to ballot its entire membership in the short timeframe Aslef has set for its own ballot, but it must launch a ballot as soon as possible.

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Only industrial action can force major concessions on LU pay/conditions

Published on: Tue, 21/01/2020 - 16:01

Our current deal on pay and conditions on London Underground expired in April 2019, so we’re the better part of year overdue. All four unions submitted claims based on a range of demands, including a reduction in the working week to 32 hours. Negotiations began formally in February 2019, and have continued for nearly a year. LU has proposed various offers, and at the last set of negotiations with our unions, in December, proposed an either/or offer: they want us to pick between two four year deals, one of which offers RPI + 0.2% pay rises in years one and four, and 1.4% pay rises and 30 minutes off the working week in years two and three (equivalent to three additional rest days per year). The second, newer offer, is a “pay only” deal, offering RPI + 0.2% pay increases in all four years, with no concessions on any other element of the unions’ claims. Both offers include a £750 flat-rate cash minimum in year one of the deal.

All unions had formally (and, in our view, rightly) rejected the former deal (the one including the reductions in the working week), primarily because, by decoupling the pay increase from RPI in years two and four, it risked amounting to a pay cut. But for many of us, that wasn’t the only objection; the deal also didn’t go anywhere near far enough in terms of improving work/life balance and guaranteeing more quality time away from work.

Discussions are now taking place within unions about the newer offer. Tubeworker believes the newer offer is also entirely unsatisfactory, as, while it guarantees (very-slightly) above inflation pay increases, it offers no improvements to working conditions. With these negotiations taking place in the run-up to a mayoral election, we have significant potential leverage. It would be a huge missed opportunity to not even attempt to take action to win concessions on working hours.

We maintain our view, which we have held all along and frequently reiterated, that our unions should ballot all members across LU for industrial action to win a better deal. That was always a challenge, due to restrictive anti-union laws and their arbitrary ballot threshold. Delays in launching a ballot have created additional challenges; a ballot needs preparation - carpeting the job with propaganda, regular workplace visits, generally stirring things up and giving members ownership over the campaign. All our unions should’ve been doing that work consistently since their pay claims were submitted, in early 2019, or ideally even earlier. At best it’s happened patchily and in a very stop-start way.

Union negotiators have harried LU bosses in talks, and pushed them on a number of issues. But without mass collective action by LU workers to stop the job, it was never going to be possible to secure major concessions. Each union will now be deciding its own strategy. As difficult a task as it may seem, we still think we need ballots. Not balloting effectively means accepting a substandard deal that meets none of our claims - what’s the point of discussing demands and submitting a pay claim if we just accept an offer that comes nowhere near them?

LU says its current offer is "final", but it also said its plans to extend train preparation schedules were fixed... until the threat of strikes by fleet workers forced their abandonment. It also said it had no money for an engineering fix for excessive track noise... until the threat of strikes by drivers led to the discovery of £10 million for new work on the track. Whatever happens, we need to learn lessons. First and foremost is to remind ourselves that no major improvements can be achieved without workers taking collective action.

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A reply to some critics

Published on: Fri, 17/01/2020 - 17:53

This image has been brought to our attention; it originates with some Aslef reps.

To clarify, Tubeworker is NOT an RMT publication. We are fiercely pro-union, but we are an independent rank-and-file bulletin, published by a socialist group, and not affiliated with any individual union on the job.

The quote on the right is profoundly misleading, as it implies that the sentence ends at "conditions". It's like quoting someone as having said "don't leave your house" when what they've actually said is, "don't leave your house without an umbrella when it's raining."

As anyone who takes the time to read the article on the left will see, it was making the very basic point that RMT, as an all-grades union, has a special responsibility to make all-grades arguments, and fight for any improvements to terms and conditions to be extended to all Tube workers, not just one grade.

We are aware that some people on the job think that different groups of workers have separate or special interests; we disagree. We think all of us who work on the Tube - directly employed or outsourced, and whatever job we do - share common interests, and should fight together to demand the levelling up of terms and conditions. It’s a shame some people don’t see it that way, but we’ll never make any apology for fighting for better, and equal, rights for all workers.

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Boxing Day? Equal pay!

Published on: Tue, 14/01/2020 - 22:58

Trains reps are discussing improved Boxing Day and NYE working arrangements for drivers with LU bosses.

Tubeworker supports any group of workers negotiating towards, and taking action to win, improvements to their conditions; we also believe all workers across LU should be entitled to the same benefits. It’s not fair that drivers get improved payments for working Boxing Day or NYE, when that’s just a normal working day for station staff and many other workers (including cleaners and other outsourced workers!).

As the only all-grades union on the job, RMT has a special responsibility to raise these arguments and not sign off on any deal to improve drivers’ terms and conditions without pushing LU to put mechanisms in place to extend that deal to other groups of workers.

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