Tube: rank-and-file must be in driving seat

Submitted by AWL on 25 May, 2011 - 12:44

Tube drivers could now strike alongside other public sector workers on 30 June as part of the ongoing dispute to win the reinstatement of victimised union activist Arywn Thomas.

The participation of Tube workers in a day of mass strike action would be positive, but the decision (which, as we go to press, is not formal; the RMT union has not yet named any official dates) represents a step back from what had been won in the dispute so far: the the union Exec would be guided by the rank-and-file Train Grades Committee. The TGC had voted on 20 May to advocate 48 hours of strike action, spread across the week beginning 20 June.

However, Workers’ Liberty member Janine Booth was one of only two votes on the union’s General Grades Committee (the executive body which has the ultimate say in the dispute) to endorse this strategy.

Part of the reason for delaying naming strikes is that some on the RMT’s Executive fear that taking the decision to call strikes during Arwyn’s Employment Tribunal, which started on 23 May and is scheduled to run for four days, would annoy the Tribunal and make it less likely to rule in Arwyn’s favour. This strategy is mistaken; we can win by putting pressure on the employer by naming strikes during the Tribunal (with the strikes themselves taking place afterwards).

With the dispute at a crucial stage, it is vital that the leadership is not allowed to sideline the rank-and-file voice in the dispute. Token participation in the 30 June strikes (which runs the risk of seeing the victimisation dispute “drowned” in a much wider and “bigger” issue) is not a good enough reason to explicitly ignore the democratically-decided policy of a rank-and-file strike committee. The organising work and strategy discussions of this committee have been crucial to the successes of this dispute so far — of the three RMT reps sacked by January, two are now back at work.

When the union names dates, the task for all activists — including those who disagree with the timetable — will be to build to ensure that the strikes are as solid and effective as possible.

But the latest turn highlights again the desperate need for grassroots committees, and ordinary union members to have control of our own disputes.

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