In 2011, the first year of the pay deal which has now expired, and the renewal of which is now the subject of a joint dispute for all four LU unions,an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development study showed that income inequality in Britain was growing faster than in any other developed country.
From 2009-2014, the richest 1,000 people in Britain increased their wealth by £260 billion. (That's not how much they were worth in total, just the amount by which they increased their existing wealth.) In that same period, the average income fell by 6%.
Since 2011, the average rent in London has increased by more than 15%, around six times more than the rate of increase in the rest of the UK. In mid-2014, the average monthly rent in London was nearly £1,500.
The average London house price has increased by 11% in the last year, and now stands at nearly £500,000.
In 2013/2014, London Underground carried an average of 3.5 million passengers per day – a record high. 1.265 billion passengers took Tube journeys in 2013/14, up 3% rise from 2012/13.
There has been a 33% increase in passenger numbers over the past decade. Ticketing revenue has more than doubled since 2000.
In the first year of our last pay deal, Transport for London Commissioner “Sir” Peter Hendy took home £331,175. In the second, he took home £652,452. His expenses report from January 2015 showed a £450 bill for a “working lunch”. In 2013, LU Managing Director Mike Brown “earned” nearly £500,000. Top TfL and LU bosses' pay has nearly doubled since 2010.
These are key facts to consider when thinking about our dispute for a decent pay settlement.
We know that, relative to many other workers, we are well paid (some grades, such as drivers and some engineers, particularly so). Partially that's because our jobs are crucial to the day-to-day economic and social functioning of the capital city. But it's also because we've used that crucial function to bargain effectively, through our unions, for higher pay and better conditions.
Since the economic crisis which began in 2007, the disparities between certain groups of workers have been cynically exploited by capitalist ideology. The right-wing media will shriek that Tube workers are "greedy" for fighting for pay increases when many of us are paid much more than, say, many nurses, teachers, or shop workers. When we fight to defend our final-salary pension scheme, the right-wing press will denounce us on the basis that we're "selfishly" clinging onto a benefit most private-sector workers lost years ago, or never had.
That cynical ideological manipulation is used to turn workers against each other rather than focusing our fire on the common enemy - our bosses - who have done very well for themselves out of the crisis. Our pay is often compared to that of low-paid workers. Why is it never compared to that of a CEO, a university Vice Chancellor, or a railway company boss? Their salaries dwarf all of ours.
The growing inequality in our society has been deliberately engineered by the capitalist class to ensure that we pay for the crisis they created. The working class in Britain has suffered the longest squeeze on real wages since records began. As well as fighting for our own pay, terms, and conditions, we should give the maximum solidarity to lower-paid workers' struggles - most immediately, workers in our own industry and unions, such as cleaners, but also lending our support to the campaigns of unions in other industries, such as the Bakers' union's "Hungry For Justice" campaign for living wages for fast food workers, and Unite's campaign in the hotel sector.
Although London Underground workers' pay has not suffered as much as other workers in the past few years, we are still affected by sharp increases in living costs, such as rent. The CSA's starting salary of just over £30,000 is being increasingly stretched as London rents skyrocket.
We should not apologise for, or feel guilty about, fighting for a pay rise. But our perspective should be to situate our fight within a wider working-class push to reclaim some of the economic ground we have lost since 2007.
What should we demand?
The RMT's pay claim demands "a substantial pay award", with a particular focus on the lowest-paid grades.
The problem with this demand is that it leaves a lot open to interpretation. LU probably thinks its current offer of 0.75% is "substantial". Obviously we disagree!
Industrial disputes are always more effective when they have clear, specific demands. It allows the workers involved to have more ownership over the campaign, as we know exactly what we're fighting for. And it gives us a benchmark against which to measure revised offers from management.
Unions should demand a flat-rate consolidated increase (rather than a percentage figure, which would ensure any pay rise would be of most benefit those who need it most!). The figure could be worked out in consultation with members and based on calculations about increases in the cost of living, and comparisons to management pay rises.
Tubeworker also believes it's essential that unions don't just focus on pay but on the wider elements of the terms and conditions under discussion in this dispute, particularly the length of the working week. With numerous scientific studies confirming the damaging health effects of shift working, particularly night working, this will be an issue of increasing importance for us as we move towards 24-hour running in September. This is an issue Tubeworker will be focusing on in our bulletin and on our blog in the coming weeks.
Have your say
What should the unions' demands in the pay and Night Tube dispute be? How can we resist the capitalists' ideological assault on our right to fight for a pay rise? Do you disagree with something in this article?