Union reps threatened as Tube jobs fight falters

Submitted by Matthew on 26 January, 2011 - 10:58

After four months with four one-day strikes against job cuts on London Underground (LU), and a two-month lull since 28-29 November, RMT general secretary Bob Crow announced on 21 January: “It was agreed that we continue to take part in the ongoing review process and we will advise [members] of developments when the work of the reviews become clearer.”

In other words, RMT will not name any more strike dates before the station job cuts come in on 6 February. Nor will the other station staff union, TSSA, which joined with RMT in four strong strikes between 6-7 September and 28-29 November.

The RMT Executive had resolved in December to schedule further action in January. Leaving members in the dark for two months had damaged momentum, but a members’ meeting on 17 January showed significant continuing support for action. With confident leadership and hard work, morale would have built up again as staff faced the reality of the awful new rosters. But the RMT Exec decided on 19 January not to call any more strikes.

The Workers’ Liberty bulletin Tubeworker, and many union activists and members, had argued for action in December. We failed to win that, but then argued that the unions should name a 48-hour strike in January to demand LU suspend the cuts’ implementation until the job-review process conceded by Tube bosses had been completed.

The winding-down of the jobs dispute brings back bad memories of how RMT resolved the last pay dispute. Fighting for a few days, killing the dispute with months of silence, then finally putting it out of its misery. RMT is more willing to go into a fight than the other unions, but seems to do so hoping for the best, with no strategy or determination to see it through.

Activists must organise inside the union to prevent such things happening again. The first demand is that disputes be controlled by rank-and-file strike committees, rather than being switched on and off by the Executive, often without much reference to the rank and file.

Immediately, the RMT on the Tube faces a battle on victimisation of union reps.

On 15 January, drivers on the Bakerloo line and at the Northern line’s Morden depot struck to demand the reinstatement of sacked workmates Eamonn Lynch (RMT health and safety rep) and Arwyn Thomas (longstanding RMT activist).

LU responded by victimising another rep. It sacked Peter Hartshorn on 19 January. Peter, who is RMT’s rep on the Green Park group of stations, was sacked after a manager accused him of swearing at him. Several witnesses say that they heard no such thing. The manager concerned has previously had a grievance upheld against him for anti-union behaviour. Peter was carrying out union duties at the time. It is clear that he has been sacked because he is an effective union rep.

These sackings are a deadly threat to union organisation. If the union cannot win reinstatement, then members who might previously have considered being union reps will think again, and the unions will become much weaker in the workplace.

So far, the campaigns to defend the sacked reps have focused around their particular areas and branches, though the RMT Regional Council has publicised them around the job.

We now need rank-and-file members from every line and grade, and members of other unions, to rally round to fight off this attack.

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