Tube: an alternative to cuts

Submitted by AWL on 2 September, 2020 - 7:15

As well as a loud “no” to cuts proposed by the ongoing KPMG-led audit of Transport for London’s finances, Tube workers and our unions also need to spell out our “yes”. We’re unlikely to get that kind of vision from the “independent review” London Mayor Sadiq Khan has commissioned to run in parallel.

RMT has produced its own submission to the TfL review, making the case for public funding, public ownership, increased staffing levels, and the in-housing of all services. It’s a useful contribution to discussion, but needs to be connected to an active campaign with roots in workplaces. It also sets its sights far too low in proposing that TfL be funded by “government borrowing”, rather than advocating increased taxes on the rich.

Public transport is a necessary service, that should be socially provided.

Prior to the pandemic, 72% of TfL’s income came from fare revenue, compared to just 38% for the New York Subway and Paris Metro. Part of the Paris Metro’s funding comes from a ring-fenced payroll tax on businesses and corporations that benefit from its operation. There’s no reason why similar models couldn’t work here. It will take sustained political and industrial campaigning to force these concessions from government, which we can’t conjure up at will.

But we must turn our “defensive” battle against whatever cuts the KPMG-led audit recommends into an “offensive” fight for our own vision.

Step one is to stake out a clear position: fight every single cut, resist any sell-off. Drivers’ union Aslef has been quickest out of the traps, balloting its members from 26 August to 17 September. Their dispute is around the mild demand that LU abides by existing agreements and the “machinery of negotiation”. But the approach of preparing for industrial action pre-emptively, rather than waiting for the bosses’ assault and trying to it them off is the right one. RMT, TSSA, and Unite should launch their own ballots.

Some argue that it’d be more effective to wait until the KPMG audit presents its final report in October. But delaying just gives the employer, and the accountants conducting the review, time to get their ducks in a row. Getting out in front of whatever they propose will give us the best possible chance of resisting it.

There are significant challenges to building for, and taking, industrial action in the current context of the ongoing pandemic and profound economic uncertainty. The campaign to get the vote out in industrial action ballots needs to be led from the workplace. And the discussion about what action to take, and when, also needs to be bottom-up, based on democratic decisions taken by union branches.

We’ve kept London moving during a global pandemic. We must not accept that our reward for that is job cuts and attacks on our terms and conditions. Let’s fight back.

• RMT report here

• Tubeworker blog here

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