Drivers in the RMT have voted, by 299 to 221 on a 42% turnout, to strike in protest at the unfair sacking of Northern Line driver Alex McGuigan.
Drivers in Alex's depot, Morden, already held a solid strike in December, after which RMT decided to ballot all driver members.
The issue at the heart of the dispute is the company's abuse of process; why didn't they also test Alex's urine sample for alcohol after he failed a breathalyser test? Why weren't more comprehensive, secondary test conducted when there's evidence showing breathalysers can give false positives, particularly for people with particular medical conditions like diabetes (which Alex has)?
The RMT has made a very clear, reasonable offer to the company: agree to be bound by the outcome of any Employment Tribunal, and we won't strike. The company has refused. Why? What's management hiding? Do they know they'd lose at an ET?
It's true that the ballot result returned a narrower majority for action than we wanted. But that's surely due, in part at least, to the constant campaign of lies and distortions management have conducted since this dispute began. We've had lies and half-truths in the press (a scandalous Daily Telegraph article claims, in its headline, that Alex was "caught drunk at the wheel twice", an outrageous fabrication the article doesn't even attempt to back up or substantiate: who fed them that lie, we wonder?), management propaganda plastered over depots and taped to booking-on desks, and emails, bulletins, and communiqués galore from management. TfL Commissioner Peter Hendy was forced to apologise to the union after he lied on live radio, claiming Alex had been "drinking at work".
As soon as the ballot result was announced, an employee bulletin from JNP Operations Director Nigel Holness appeared, claiming the ballot result was a "very weak mandate", and crunching the numbers about how many drivers "rejected" the strike by voting no, or not voting. Well firstly, Nigel, those who didn't vote didn't vote. If they had felt strongly enough to oppose the strike, presumably they would have voted no. Non-voters can't be inveigled, en masse, into your claims that drivers don't support Alex.
And secondly, isn't it funny how management discover rigorous principles of electoral democracy when it comes to our strikes, but believe it's perfectly acceptable for them to do whatever they like (cut staff, close ticket offices, unfairly sack us, etc. etc.) without the slightest democratic mandate whatsoever? 299 drivers have voted to strike: that's 299 more than have voted for any management initiative, ever. And by the way, Nigel, who elected you?
The union has said it will now consult with trains reps about the next steps in the dispute. It's right to put elected workplace reps in the driving seat; reps and activists should get round depots to discuss with members who voted no, and persuade them about the dispute. We can't allow management meddling, manipulation, and slander to derail the campaign. Yes, we have work to do to build up support and members' confidence, but we can't abandon our fight against injustice and abuse of procedure. And remember, if the company had agreed to be bound by an Employment Tribunal outcome, there'd be no threat of strikes at all. Who's being unreasonable here?