London Underground workers are preparing for further strikes in their dispute over terms and conditions, job cuts, and other issues.
Strikes are planned for 25-26 and 27-28 August, amounting to close to a week's worth of disruption. These dates follow strikes on 8-9 July and 5-6 August.
As Solidarity goes to press, three of the four Tube unions (RMT, TSSA, and Unite) will take part in the strike. Driver-only union Aslef, which participated in the two previous actions, has suspended action following the promise of separate talks with the company over rostering arrangements for the introduction of all-night running ("Night Tube"). London Underground has suggested that the introduction of Night Tube, planned for 12 September, may now be pushed back.
Many Aslef members are disappointed with what appears to be a retreat from their union. The rank-and-file bulletin Tubeworker commented: “Tubeworker supporters in depots around the combine say that many Aslef drivers aren't satisfied with the union's decision not to call further strikes, and want to see the dispute through - i.e., win some concrete concessions, rather than merely 'winning' a vague promise of further talks. Even if Aslef doesn't officially participate in the upcoming strikes, we know there'll be widespread refusal by many Aslef drivers to cross picket lines.”
London Underground bosses remain intransigent, with Chief Operating Officer Steve Griffiths (recruited from Virgin Atlantic) spluttering with disbelief in an Employee Bulletin that the unions have demanded the hiring of "even more staff".
Despite year-on-year increases in passenger footfall, and the planned expansion of services for Night Tube, London Underground is reducing its staffing level, with stations facing a net reduction of around 500 posts by 2015, and more jobs set to go in other areas.
Unions are also demanding assurances around work/life balance, and protections from the detrimental physical effects of long-term shift working (and particularly night working).
London Underground has claimed that the current set up, whereby workers are guaranteed at least two days off in every seven, is adequate — failing to mention that, for workers working seven consecutive night shifts, one of their two "days off" is the day on which they finish their nights (and which they will therefore have already worked seven hours of).
Proposed new rosters for station staff will also see a drastic increase in weekend working, with some workers facing as few as five weekends off per year. LU has so far only committed to attempting to ensure that 75% of staff will work a "comparable number" of weekends (compared to their current rosters) in future. Unions have argued that this mealy-mouthed promise amounts to saying that all workers will face an increase in weekend working, with 25% of workers facing a drastic increase.
RMT, the majority union on the Tube and the only one to represent workers across all grades and job roles, is demanding an increase in staffing levels to facilitate a reduction in the working week, ensuring that no worker is forced to works more weekends or nights than they do currently, and that adequate recovery time after consecutive night shifts is guaranteed.
Tube bosses have also bundled the 2015 pay settlement into this dispute.
Unions are demanding an increase in line with increases in living costs.
Steve Griffiths has argued that "there is no more money available" to finance increases in staffing levels, and has disingenuously and falsely accused unions of wanting fare hikes to fund their demands. Tubeworker commented: “There was still money available when LU wanted to close ticket offices (£134 million, to be precise); still money available to pay an external company to deliver condescending 'customer service training' (£4.2 million); still money to hire nearly 100 new 'Area Managers' on inflated salaries... it seems that, whenever LU wants to do something that fits in with its grand plan to de-staff the network and bring a corporate/retail culture to the Tube, it can find some dosh. But when the workers who make the Tube function make some demands of our own, suddenly the coffers are empty.
“The assertion that passengers would have to foot the bill if LU met our demands only makes sense if you share LU bosses' view that the Tube is essentially a business that should be run on the basis of a private-sector, profit-driven culture. But, despite the wilder dreams the Tories, it isn't. It's a public service. If it needs more funding to increase staffing levels, ensuring workers' wellbeing and safety and security for passengers, government should increase funding.”
Talks at conciliation service Acas were ongoing as Solidarity went to press.
• For regular updates on the dispute, see Tubeworker's blog or follow @Tube_Worker on Twitter.