RMT members working for London Underground will vote on a pay deal for 2011-15, in a referendum closing on 27 October.
The RMT, along with the three other unions organising LU workers (ASLEF, TSSA and Unite), is recommending acceptance.
The deal on offer is for four years, meaning that Tube workers would not be able to fight again on the issue of pay — one of the only issues that consistently unites all grades of workers — until 2015. This would be a significant hindrance in a period when LU management plans to extend the job cuts programme that saw them axe 800 stations posts in early 2011, following around 1,000 mainly clerical jobs the previous year. Future job cuts are likely to come through salami-slicing, one grade at a time. Without a pay battle to unite around, it may be difficult to foster the all-grades unity needed to fend off such attacks.
The content of the offer has little to recommend it; it is below RPI in the first year. And, perhaps most importantly, it also means postponing a fight on other issues tied up in the deal, such as shorter hours and a flat-rate minimum pay rise to benefit lower-paid grades.
An RMT reps’ meeting voted by a big majority that the union should hold a referendum of members with a recommendation to accept the deal, so the union’s Executive was right to do just that. The referendum gives union members the opportunity to vote to either accept or reject the deal, so members should hear the case for both. If members were only allowed to hear one side of the argument, there would be little point in holding a referendum and little credibility in its result. Tubeworker is putting the case for members of all unions voting to reject the deal. At least one RMT branch has also come out against the pay deal.
There are some instances in which strict collective discipline must be applied in trade unions. For example, when a vote to strike has been taken and a strike called, even those union members who voted against the action should be expected to participate. But there need be no such obligation to follow an Executive recommendation in a referendum about whether to accept a pay deal; after all, it is a recommendation, not an instruction. There is a big difference between adhering to the result of a vote once it has finished and participating in a debate during that vote about what the result should be.
Union members on London Underground have the right to think for ourselves and make up our own minds. We are not a flock of sheep who must be firmly led into making the right choices by our unions’ leaders.
If some union members want to convince their workmates that accepting a four-year pay deal which is below RPI in the first year is wrong, then they should be free to do that without being accused of breaking discipline.
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