Victory on Metronet

Submitted by Off The Rails on 15 June, 2007 - 7:43

In April, RMT called off strike action on Metronet after management capitulated. The union had demanded the Infraco drop its plan to transfer the employment of 49 Duty Depot Managers to Bombardier, one of its component companies. Metronet agreed not to go ahead with the transfer.

The sweeteners that Metronet used to try to lure RMT into accepting the DDMs' transfer remain part of this new deal, so we may now see lifts & escalators contracts brought back in-house, and cleaning services too - if Metronet keeps its promises.

200 employees will, however, transfer. They are all senior managers and admin staff, widely disliked by the workforce. RMT does not negotiate for this group of employees, who are largely members of TSSA. Other TSSA members, whether in Metronet, LUL or other companies, should reflect on how their union has done nothing to prevent its members being re-privatised.

It remains to be seen how the thousands of RMT engineering and fleet workers will be affected by the fact that senior managers will now work for a different employer. Will these managers have a role in hiring and firing workers? And if so, will there be a problem in taking industrial action against a different employer in defence of a sacked workmate?

That said, this dispute was not about 200 non-RMT members but about 49 RMT DDMs, and on that, the union clearly won. DDM is a low-level manager grade, which might in the past have been called 'depot foreman'. Having seen their workmates from other grades ready to strike in their defence, we can now hope that they will see which side their bread is buttered on and integrate themselves into a unionised workforce.

The union’s ballot gained a 92.6% vote for strikes and 96.4% for action short of strike. RMT called an overtime ban, plus a three-day strike from 18:00 on 15th April. It then called off the overtime ban in the hope of progress in talks, then when there was no progress, planned another overtime ban.

RMT's leadership tried to persuade reps to accept a poor Metronet offer which offered a brown-envelope payment of £5,000 to buy support for the 49 transfers. Three days before strikes were due, Bob Crow argued at a reps' meeting that it was the best we could get, and a couple of the negotiating reps chimed in with his view. But workplace reps responded that they were not prepared to compromise on the central issue of the 49 transfers and so would not accept the offer.

Had this meeting of reps not happened, had the reps not been confident in stating their views, this dispute would have ended with a whimper not a bang, with a deal much worse than the one it went on to win.

The negotiating team - which includes rank-and-file reps as well as full-time officers - was changed to a stronger one, the top table accepted the will of the reps, the strike action was kept on, and preparations began in earnest for the action. A rank-and-file strike committee ensured that activists were organising in every workplace; leaflets were produced explaining the action to the public; and many London Underground staff were ready to refuse to work on safety grounds during the strike, adding to its effectiveness.
Facing the prospect of an effective strike, Metronet caved in.

Rank-and-file activists have proved that if you stick to your guns, you can win. You do not have to accept crap offers just because union leaders recommend them. As it turned out, Metronet workers did not even need to strike to win a better deal - it's just that their judgement was better than their officials'! It’s another occasion where union leaders have judged an offer to be "the best we can get" only to be proved wrong.

Key to the success was that the two RMT branches involved - LU Engineering and LU Fleet - set up a strike committee, which gained endorsement from the RMT regional council. This gave reps the confidence to refuse the "top table's" advice, and laid the ground for effective action. Many activists feel that the LU Engineering branch secretary played a good role, organising effectively and encouraging the rank and file.

All in all - a victory for solidarity and rank-and-file self-assertion.

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