RMT will strike to defend Tube reps

Submitted by Matthew on 4 May, 2011 - 2:07

RMT London Underground drivers will strike for two days over a period of a week in the week beginning Monday 16 May, and again in the week beginning Monday 13 June.

We demand the reinstatement of Bakerloo line drivers’ health and safety representative Eamonn Lynch and long-standing RMT activist and Northern Line driver Arwyn Thomas.

We have named both sets of action at once, letting management know they won’t be able to just ride out the first strike and have drivers back at work. The strategy was formulated in exhaustive meetings by a rank-and-file strike committee.

LU sacked Eamonn for following an instruction that turned out to be wrong, and sacked Arwyn following allegations by a strike-breaker.

Following two 24-hour strikes on the Bakerloo and Northern Lines, I successfully proposed to the union’s Executive that we escalate the dispute to a strike ballot of all RMT’s Tube driver members. Just under half of those members voted in the ballot, and nearly two-thirds of them voted yes. In context, the ballot result was good.

The union has often felt unable to escalate an anti-victimisation dispute beyond the workplace of the individuals being victimised, so this ballot was a big deal. We were asking people to strike and lose money to defend people they might never have met or even heard of until the start of this campaign.

Of course we can expect attacks from Boris Johnson about the turnout, but it is both a higher majority and a higher turnout than he got when he was elected Mayor of London!

A strong ballot result can not win a dispute by itself. We have a lot of work to do in building for the action, organising picketing, talking to people who did not vote yes and building support for the dispute across the Underground.

The pressure is on management here. It is very hard for them to explain or justify to the public what they have done. They can not really justify sacking two people on spurious charges and then refusing to reinstate them after Tribunals have granted them interim relief, something that sends a strong signal that they should be reinstated.

Arwyn’s Tribunal proceedings have not concluded yet; Eamonn’s concluded six weeks ago but we are still waiting for the judgment. If his complaint is successful, a “remedy hearing” on 3 June will decide whether to issue a reinstatement order.

But even if the Tribunal tells London Underground to reinstate Eamonn, the company does not have to comply! That is why we are striking; we can not rely on Tribunals and the courts to win justice for us.

We have had a lot of support from rank-and-file members of ASLEF; a lot of them are saying they will not cross our picket lines. They know that if the company gets away with sacking our reps, that has an impact on them too. It will change the nature of the workplace.

If the company gets away with it, remaining reps will feel more anxious about standing up to management and people will be more reluctant to come forward to be reps.

If you have a strong union rep in your workplace, someone who you know will fight for you if there are problems, it makes your day at work that bit more relaxed.

If that goes, people will spend their working day worrying about what might go wrong.

London Underground is clamping down on attendance and discipline, with drivers receiving much harsher punishments from minor infringements than they would have done a few years ago. If the company takes out our reps, it will intensify that clampdown.

This dispute is a chance to turn the tide. We have had some defeats recently and our campaigns have not always been effective. With this dispute, we are not discussing how to register a protest, we are discussing how to win. Reps and activists are having detailed, thoughtful discussions at regular meetings to work out what action will work best. We are also organising political and public campaigning alongside our industrial action.

There is plenty people can do to support the dispute, including visiting picket lines. We want to build solidarity throughout the labour movement, and are keen to send speakers to trade union branches and trades councils.

• To send a message of support or arrange a speaker email janine.booth@rmt.org.uk

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