With the benefit of hindsight Rick Grogan’s statement (Solidarity 3/58) that “If the dispute had continued [over privatisation], those workers would have been transferred with no agreements…” does not make sense.
The first group of track and maintenance workers were privatised in December 2002, eighteen months after the strikes in question were called off and the dispute settled. Who knows what we could have achieved in those intervening 18 months?
So the question needs to be asked: where did the idea that “…track workers and maintenance workers were facing privatisation within weeks.” come from? It was certainly a strong argument in favour of accepting the deal. No union member wants to be held responsible for workers losing any protections they can achieve. But why hadn’t we heard until just before the settlement.
This didn’t occur to me then (it has taken three years and this discussion) and perhaps if I’d been given time to reflect on the deal it might have helped, but that was the one thing we weren’t given.
The hastily convened meeting to discuss the deal was called one day after the deal appeared. Most people hadn’t seen it and any consultation on it would have been meaningless. In the heat of debate we didn’t see this possible line of argument.
So why the rush? Well there was a general election coming up, so the RMT leadership didn’t want to embarrass Blair, and the TUC had also urged them to accept.
One month earlier, the executive of the union and the AGS tried to sell us an inferior deal. I think they were feeling the pressure and desperately wanted to seal a better one. Having got some improvements they needed the membership’s approval for the new deal but didn’t want to take any chances.
What was needed was a big threat to cow us and thus was born the idea that workers “… were facing privatisation within weeks.”