The fight against Tube privatisation reviewed (part 1)

Submitted by Janine on 3 July, 2004 - 12:00

This (long) article tells the story of New Labour's 'Public-Private Partnership' for London Underground.

Announced in 1998, it was originally scheduled to be implemented by 2000, but the strength of the campaign against it forced that back by three years. But the campaign against it was flawed.

This article forms the major part of the Workers' Liberty pamphlet, 'Tunnel Vision'. Part one takes us up to the height of the struggle against PPP in spring 2001. You can read part 2 here.

PRIVATISATION ANNOUNCED

New Labour's intention to invite private-sector involvement in the Tube leaked out in June 1997.

13 February 1998 - RMT protest against privatisation, John Prescott's office

Less than a year after Labour's General Election victory, John Prescott officially announced the 'Public-Private Partnership' (PPP) as his policy for London Underground. He insisted that this was not privatisation, but everyone knew that PPP meant Privatisation Put Politely.

24 March 1998 - Prescott announces PPP

Prescott's policy was that:

  • The infrastructure would be divided into three infrastructure companies ('InfraCos') - JNP (Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly lines), BCV (Bakerloo, Central and Victoria lines), and SSL (Sub-Surface lines - Metropolitan, Hammersmith & City, Circle, District and East London lines).
  • Each of these would be leased to a private firm (or consortium ie. body set up by a group of firms) for 15 years. The private sector later succeeded in lobbying the government to double the lease period to 30 years.
  • The private companies would invest £7 billion in improving the Tube's infrastructure.
  • Train services would be operated by a public remnant of London Underground, the Operations Company ('OpsCo').

The government intended that this would all be in place by 2000. The strength of the campaign against it would push this date back by three years.

21 April 1998 - Prescott sacks Peter Ford, Chair of London Transport, because he opposes PPP. Ford receives a 'golden handshake' of £350,000, the balance of his contract

Opponents pointed out that the private sector is not a charity: it does not put money into something unless it is confident it will get more money out. If more investment were forthcoming, workers and passengers would pay for it through:

  • fares increases, predicted to be up to 40% above inflation;
  • cuts in staffing;
  • increased use of casual and agency workers;
  • attacks on Tube workers' pay and conditions;
  • abandoning planned improvements and new lines, or doing them on the cheap, cutting corners and compromising safety.

28 April 1998 - Evening Standard/NOP poll shows 51% for public ownership, just 30% for PPP

The experience of British Rail's privatisation intensified opposition to Tube PPP. People had seen in practice that both the profit motive and the separation of infrastructure from operations - 'wheel and steel' - spelt disaster for the railway. This point would be underlined in blood by several major rail crashes over the next few years.

30 April 1998 - RMT Lobby of Parliament

THE FIGHT WE NEEDED

PPP's unpopularity gave its opponents a head start in the campaign. But public opinion alone could not stop it. Britain's political system is not fully democratic - if it were, a government could not push through a policy against the obvious wishes of the people. Forcing them to back down would need a fight. And the unions would have to lead that fight.

Why? Because workers have most to lose through privatisation; because we could only inspire the wider public to campaign against PPP by showing our own willingness to fight; and because Tube workers have the power, through withdrawing our labour, to bring London to a standstill and hit the employers and the capitalist system where it hurts - in their pockets.

What sort of fight would we need? Workers' Liberty Tube workers thought that the main elements of a winning campaign would be:

  • industrial action, if necessary confronting the anti-union laws;
  • cross-union unity - all grades and all unions working closely together against PPP;
  • united action with workers and service users in other industries under similar attack - hospitals, schools, the mainline railway, air traffic control, the post office, firefighters;
  • a political campaign, both inside and outside the Labour Party, in meetings and on the streets;
  • a positive alternative to PPP - we were not defending the decrepit Underground that we worked on: rather, we wanted a well-funded, publicly-owned railway organised through a workers' and passengers' plan.

Most importantly, we needed to discuss and think through our strategy, and ensure that rank-and-file members directed the campaign.

Tube workers - although unnecessarily divided into different unions - had the advantage of a relatively high level of union membership, having the confidence to take action, and all working for the same employer.

6 May 1998 - Mick Rix wins ASLEF General Secretary election, unseating Lew Adams by 4,538 votes to 3,357, but does not take office until the following January

RMT STARTS THE FIGHTBACK

RMT immediately declared its opposition to PPP. RMT is the biggest of the Tube unions, and the only one to organise workers across all grades. It was the only one to make an unequivocal commitment to actively fight PPP right from the start.

In September 1998, General Secretary Jimmy Knapp circulated to branches a discussion paper on the union's strategy. Unfortunately, this concentrated almost entirely on seeking guarantees to protect workers under PPP, rather than fighting to prevent PPP coming in at all. It even stated that if guarantees were forthcoming, "we will believe that the PPP is indeed a unique third way".

As the response from Holborn (now Central Line West) RMT branch reasoned, "it is mistaken to argue that 'guarantees' will ensure workers' well-being under PPP. Promises can be broken, guarantees withdrawn, as will certainly happen as the Infracos' profit-driven 'efficiency' drives lead to attacks on staff.

"RMT should not fall into the trap of encouraging illusions in privatisation ... Even with guarantees, all the union's fundamental objections to Prescott's privatisation plan remain ...we are more likely to win for our members if we do not give ground at the outset ...…No army goes into a battle planning to lose and seeking only the most merciful treatment for its defeated rank and file."

More positively, the union recognised that we would need to take industrial action from the outset, partly because one group of workers - UTS technicians, who maintained the ticketing equipment - faced imminent privatisation ahead of full PPP.

RMT's strike ballot was designed to coincide with the transfer of UTS workers, to frighten management off going through with it.

3 June 1998 - RMT strike ballot result: 6,318 ballot papers issued, 2,417 Yes, 462 No

The ballot result was a resounding 6-1 in favour: 84% of a 47% turnout. As a Workers' Liberty leaflet pointed out at the time, if we could legally hold workplace ballots, we would probably have got a 90% turnout.

15-16 June 1998 - RMT strike against 'the effects of privatisation'

The first strike lasted for 48 hours. Given that RMT was striking alone, it was more effective than many people had expected. By the second day, only half the service was running. 24 stations closed.

Tube workers got a taste of the way that management act during strikes - fiddling the figures about the service levels by reporting shuttle services between a few stations as though they were running the length of the line, even risking passengers' safety by breaching their own rules to undermine our action. The Evening Standard joined in, passing on LUL's propaganda, and denouncing the strike whilst purporting to oppose PPP. There are no 'Queensbury rules' when the working class confronts our bosses: they fight hard, and so must we.

The strike was held over 'the effects of privatisation' - a set of demands over working conditions. This was because the anti-union laws insist that all strikes must be 'trade disputes' - political strikes against government policies are not allowed, even though political issues affect us just as much as workplace matters.

One particularly pernicious effect of this law is that the strike demands make it look as though Tube workers care only about ourselves, not about passengers. If we could strike against privatisation itself, our case would be clearer and more honest, and we could attract more support. That is why the Tories banned political strikes, and why the unions should have prepared to confront their ban.

Workers' Liberty members argued within the union that we should work towards striking directly against PPP. We won the argument in some branches, but RMT's London Transport Regional Council voted to stick with the leadership's policy of taking action over 'the effects of privatisation'.

12-13 July 1998 - RMT strike against 'the effects of privatisation'

A further 24-hour strike again saw significant disruption. Direct-action group Reclaim The Streets demonstrated their support by climbing on top of a Central Line train at Bank and unfurling a banner reading 'Private Profit at Public Expense'.

28 July 1998 - RMT suspends its strikes

After this second strike, a meeting of RMT reps agreed that it was best to suspend the action. Partly, reps were unsure of the union's strategy, beyond registering our protest against PPP. This would continue to be a weakness throughout the campaign.

But also, RMT reps knew the limitations of striking without ASLEF. Some ASLEF members had respected RMT picket lines, particularly at depots where there was a good history of solidarity between the two unions. But most had not - they crossed RMT picket lines, just as their rotten leadership told them to.

OSTRICH SYNDROME - ASLEF BACKS PPP

ASLEF General Secretary Lew Adams gushed with enthusiasm for PPP. As early as March 1998, he wrote an article in the Evening Standard headlined 'Only private sector cash can stop the Tube going under'. He wrote: "As a union we cannot stand by and issue bland statements that LU must be both publicly-owned and fully paid for by the tax payer. It is not going to happen and we realise that." Adams went on to place adverts in labour movement newspapers welcoming the government's plan to privatise the Underground.

Lew Adams was always a toady of the New Labour leadership, and routinely sold out his members and danced to management's tune. Part of his argument for supporting PPP was old-fashioned grade chauvinism - that because drivers would not transfer to the private sector, there was no need for a drivers' union to oppose it. It may be that John Prescott designed PPP partly to take advantage of this, knowing that drivers have a lot of industrial power and that he could rely on Adams to help him divide and rule.

An RMT leaflet explained why it was nonsense to think that drivers would not be affected: "You may [have] driven a public train, but you would drive it along private track, past private signals and through private stations to a private depot to be attended to by private train maintenance. When standards slump on the infrastructure - as they inevitably will under the private sector's profit-first philosophy - your job will be more difficult and more dangerous ...

"Underground workers have a lot to gain from unity between grades - and a lot to lose from the division that privatisation will create ...

"Working for different bosses will make it harder to act jointly with station staff, train maintainers, signallers etc - and so harder for drivers to defend our conditions."

Or, as a Workers' Liberty bulletin put it, drivers who thought they were safe were "like the last green bottle standing on the wall saying "I've got nothing to worry about"."

ASLEF members had not decided that their union should support PPP. They were being misrepresented by a leadership acting directly against their interests.

When ASLEF members did get to express their judgement on Lew Adams, they kicked him out of office. As well as his support for PPP, Adams had angered his members on the mainline by signing deals (Driver Restructuring Initiatives) which had agreed to them driving for up to eleven hours.

ASLEF members elected Mick Rix, a Leeds train driver who became the first of the so-called 'awkward squad': new union leaders who did not follow Blair's every command. Rix was then a member of Arthur Scargill's Socialist Labour Party, but was later to join the Labour Party.

But the General Secretary election result was not yet enough to turn the tide in ASLEF against PPP, as Rix did not take office until the following January.

CAMPAIGN AGAINST TUBE PRIVATISATION

15 September 1998 - First meeting of the Campaign Against Tube Privatisation (CATP)

In September 1998, RMT's Regional Council launched the Campaign Against Tube Privatisation (CATP). Earlier in the year, the Regional Council had agreed a resolution - initiated by Workers' Liberty members - to set up a political campaign uniting workers and passengers.

This idea was very popular at work. Tube staff knew how much the wider public opposed PPP, and recognised that mobilising that opposition would be crucial to our prospects of winning.

RMT's head office had organised a Lobby of Parliament in April, but rank-and-file activists complained that there was no space for them to speak out, and that the platform was dominated by speakers who did not even oppose PPP!

19 October 1998 - CATP leaflets and petitions the opening of Parliament

CATP was an important initiative. Its regular meetings involved Tube workers and activists from other industries, unions and community groups. It got out campaigning straightaway, holding two actions in its first two months.

13-14 November 1998 - CATP 48 hours of campaigning action: 'Nightmare on London Underground'

But it was significant that the RMT Region only set up CATP after it had called off its first strikes. Union officials at all levels seemed to see the political campaign as an alternative to strike action, to come to the fore when they felt too weak to call strikes. Instead, the political campaign against PPP needed to be tied together with the industrial campaign.

JUBILEE LINE EXTENSION: SPARKS FLY

By late 1998, the Jubilee Line Extension was still not finished, and its cost was soaring over budget. London Transport brought in infamous US firm Bechtel to crack the whip.

The press - led by the Evening Standard - headlined that JLE electricians earned over £1,000 per week. You had to search hard amongst the newsprint to find that in fact their hourly rate was £10 per hour (or £19,500 per year, about what an LUL Station Assistant gets now), and that workers could only top the thousand by working 76 hours at the most anti-social times. The work was in rat-infested, noisy, cramped locations, with poor lighting and air quality.

In October 1998, the European Working Time Regulations came into force, and the electricians demanded extra pay for signing away their new legal right to a maximum 48-hour week. Their employer, Drake & Scull - the main electrical contractor on the JLE - refused. The sparks began a work-to-rule, refusing the longer shifts. The employer backed down.

16 November 1998 - Start of 2-week, unofficial strike in defence of union activists

In November, Drake & Scull transferred 12 electricians from the biggest JLE site at London Bridge to Green Park. The 12 were all union (AEEU) activists, and had complained that the fire alarm system at London Bridge did not work adequately.

Their workmates knew this was an attack on their workplace organisation and safety, and were unwilling to wait for a trade union bureaucracy which they did not trust to lead a fight. Unofficially, in defiance of the anti-union laws, they walked out.

Ten days into the action, 650 electricians and 75 plumbers were out, as the workers took their case to other workplaces and to the wider labour movement.

27 November 1998 - strikers' mass meeting votes unanimously to settle the dispute

Two weeks into the action, the sparks won their victory, as management returned the 12 to London Bridge.

Why were they able to win? Because they defied the anti-union laws, and acted independently of the union bureaucracy. Because they spread their action. Because they did not allow the press hysteria to demoralise them.

Mostly, because since coming onto the job in February 1996, the electricians had not only signed up to the union, but had also organised their own rank-and-file body, 'The Shop', with a £2-per-week hardship fund, 'Flying Sparks' newsletter, and regular committee meetings. They were well-organised and well-prepared.

'JUSTICE' SULLIVAN BANS RMT STRIKE

Late in 1998, RMT wanted to revive its industrial action against PPP. This was the right thing to do, so that the campaign's momentum would be renewed.

Bob Crow, the Assistant General Secretary, recommended that the union call a strike on New Year's Eve, using our existing ballot mandate. Some union activists - including Workers' Liberty - disagreed. Firstly, we thought that a new strike ballot would be a good idea, as it would get reps out talking to members about the issues and involving them in the campaign. Secondly, we did not like the date. The union should time its strikes to cause maximum inconvenience to the employers and the government, not to mess up the biggest party night of the year for working-class people. Wait a couple of days, and we could have hit the post-Christmas return to City trading: much better.

But the union went ahead with organising the New Year's Eve strike - and a further date on 3/4 January, much better timing - and those of us who had criticised the tactic united behind the decision and threw our energies into building for an effective action.

23 December 1998 - High Court awards injunction banning RMT strike

London Underground Ltd went crawling to the courts to stop its staff taking action. And Justice Sullivan did their bidding, giving an injunction banning the strike on two main grounds:

  • that the length of time since the last strike meant that the ballot mandate had expired - in other words, that the union had spent too much time in negotiations instead of on strike!
  • that the strike would cause disruption in London - in other words, that the law can not allow workers to go on strike if it would be at all effective!

As Workers' Liberty wrote at the time: "'Justice' is not fair and neutral. In a class society, it performs a class role - defending the ruling class, keeping the working class in our place. In the same month that Lord Hoffman was disqualified from judging on General Pinochet because he supports Amnesty International, Justice Sullivan ruled with unashamed bias towards LUL and the government. Is there more justice for genocidal dictators than for Tube workers? …
"The judiciary is part of an unelected state bureaucracy, whose function is to uphold the status quo … They are not there to uphold justice, fairness or morality ... They are there to stop us fighting back."

1 January 1999 - John Leach takes over from Bobby Law as London Transport region representative on the RMT National Executive

STRIKING BACK

Following the injunction, RMT set about reballoting its members. Wary of the possibility of the courts deeming its 1998 demands 'political', the union went into dispute over a new set of demands for improved working conditions:

  • reduction in working hours;
  • paid meal breaks;
  • an end to the repressive, hated Irregular Attendance procedure;

and for guarantees over the proposed PPP:

  • the contractual right to voluntary redundancy;
  • no employee to transfer to a new employer without his/her written consent;
  • no compulsory redundancies.

29 January 1999 - RMT strike ballot result: 2,489 Yes; 436 No

85% voted to strike; six Yes votes for each No. RMT called a 48-hour strike for 14-16 February.

5 February 1999 - RMT holds large protest at Prescott's office

Although Mick Rix had now taken office as General Secretary, ASLEF still did not join the action. This - and TSSA's usual refusal to strike - allowed LUL to state in a press advert condemning the strike that "This action is not supported by any of the other Trades Unions."

14-15 February 1999 - 48-hour RMT strike

Nevertheless, RMT's strike was strong and effective. Most lines ran less than half their normal service. And despite the efforts of LUL, ministers and the press, the public supported the action. Pickets received encouragement from passers-by, and RMT head office took lots of phone calls backing the union's campaign. As Tube workers sacrificed wages to fight privatisation, other working-class people showed willing to sacrifice some travel convenience in support of the same cause.

On 23 February, RMT reps met to assess the strike, and agreed to hold a further 48-hour walkout. But this second strike did not happen. Why? Because assessing opinions by phone afterwards, the Executive representative decided that the will was not there to go ahead.

This was not a new way for the union to make decisions - sadly, it was a fairly standard practice - but it was the wrong way. We had a ballot mandate, and a mandate from the reps' meeting. The union should not allow these to be over-ruled by opinions expressed privately, without the chance of scrutiny or disagreement. In a process like this, the loudest voices, the most established personalities, would dominate. So it was that the ruling group of the Region - then organised in the Socialist Labour Party (SLP) - were able to call off a strike that activists wanted.

Instead of further action, the union held a referendum asking members whether or not they supported PPP.

1 May 1999 - Reclaim The Streets take over a Circle Line train and hold a protest party

RMT GENERAL SECRETARY ELECTION

In Spring 1999, Jimmy Knapp was up for re-election. This was RMT members' chance to vote out the General Secretary who had led us to defeat over British Rail privatisation, and to elect one who would not allow slavish loyalty to the Labour Party leadership to hold back our fight against PPP.

Cometh the hour, cometh Bob Crow? No. Although we needed a more militant, left-wing leadership there and then, Crow preferred to wait until Knapp's retirement, when he could be more confident of winning.

Greg Tucker stepped in as the candidate for members who wanted a fighting, political union. The press campaigned fiercely for Knapp, largely on the basis of 'red-scare' articles about his opponent. Knapp himself joined in, stating in his election address that "My opponent is supported by extreme left-wing parties and splinter groups."

Knapp was re-elected.

May 1999 - Result of RMT referendum on PPP - 70 support it, 2,184 oppose

LISTEN TO LONDON

15 June 1999 - John Prescott announces a preliminary agreement giving control of the Sub-Surface lines to Railtrack

In summer 1999, the head offices of the three unions - RMT, ASLEF and TSSA - launched the 'Listen to London' campaign. The unions were doing two very welcome things - working together and running a political campaign. With the material resources that only head offices can provide, Listen to London produced T-shirts, commissioned opinion polls, and published glossy, fact-filled packs for politicians.

22 June 1999 - Union head offices launch 'Listen to London' campaign

But there was no role in Listen to London for workers or passengers. It was not enough simply to win the argument with the public - most of them already agreed with us anyway! Neither could the unions realistically hope to win the day by persuading politicians, most of whom are impervious to rational argument, taking their orders from Party whips.

29 June 1999 - LUL announces record £23m operating profit, but fails to meet any targets on service standards

What could have persuaded the government to back down would be to see the strength of opposition not just in opinion polls, but marching through the streets, taking protest action, linking up with other battles to defend public services, and supporting Tube strikes.

3 August 1999 - Harris poll shows 66% of Londoners oppose any form of Tube privatisation

SHADOW RUNNING

18 September 1999 - Shadow Running begins

Meanwhile, London Underground Ltd continued its preparations for PPP. Before handing over to the private sector, it re-organised itself along the new model. The infrastructure divided into three sections: BCV, JNP and SSL. New procedures began, with each section pretending to be the separate business it would eventually become.

Bureaucracy intensified and the paper trail lengthened. None of this improved the railway. Instead, it regulated the movement of money around the new system. Just as in other parts of the public services which have had private companies intrude on them, resources were diverted away from services and towards form-filling and contract-writing.

Even some of the establishment 'experts', who the government can usually rely on to whitewash anything it wants, could not hide the cracks opening up under Shadow Running. Her Majesty's Railway Inspectorate (HMRI) stated that it did "not have full confidence in London Underground Limited systems since shadow running commenced". The Tube's own Chief Engineer admitted that the new management structures meant "deterioration ... in fire safety".

Part of LUL's redesign was to change its procedures for negotiating with the trade unions (the 'machinery of negotiation') to fit the new system. This was an opportunity for the unions to frustrate and derail the PPP preparations. But ASLEF and TSSA put up no real opposition.

28 September 1999 - RMT fringe meeting against PPP at Labour Party conference

RMT reps initially rejected the new health and safety machinery, reflecting the particular concern at the threat that PPP posed to safety. But a few changes from LUL management were enough to win RMT's backing too, and an opportunity to resist was lost.

The lesson of the failure to fight the PT&R during British Rail privatisation had not been learned, and - as with most lessons unlearned - was repeated.

PADDINGTON CRASH

5 October 1999 - Paddington crash

Then, one October morning, a Thames Train passed a poorly-sighted red signal just outside Paddington station and crashed into a Great Western train coming in the opposite direction. 31 people died, including both drivers.

Although drivers had reported the signal several times, it had not been moved to a clearer position, as the various companies in the fragmented, private railway industry argued as to whose responsibility it was. Further, Thames Trains had decided against fitting Automatic Train Protection (ATP), the state-of-the-art safety system which automatically halts any train passing a red signal. The company calculated that it was not worth the 'cost per life saved'.

In short: privatisation killed all those people. They need not have died, but they did, because the private sector rates profits more highly than human life. At the time of the crash, Railtrack was making £1.2m per day profit.

There would be more multi-fatality rail crashes in the following years, at Hatfield, Selby and Potters Bar. Each time, the government rode the crisis, refusing to renationalise the railway or even to compel the industry to introduce ATP. John Prescott opted instead for the Train Protection Warning System (TPWS), costing £150m instead of ATP's £700m, but much less effective.

The labour movement wanted public ownership, but the Labour government preferred to do the bidding of the private railway bosses. Opinion polls consistently showed that more than 70% of people thought that the railway industry should be brought back into public ownership, but all the mainstream parties agreed that this was undesirable or 'impractical'. In other words, they were prepared to allow people to die year on year rather than upset fat cats.

We also need to question the unions' response. They were quick to say the right thing after the crashes, but where was the action to demand renationalisation? It is a sad and extraordinary fact that none of the rail unions has ever held a major national protest march to stop the carnage and renationalise the rail, even though hundreds of thousands would have attended.

As RMT activist Martin Wicks wrote in 2001, "The rail unions maintain a paper policy of taking back the railways, with an occasional ritual reference to it, but do nothing to 'embarrass' the government by launching a serious campaign."

SHORTLIST OF BIDDERS

7 October 1999 - LUL announces its shortlist of PPP bidders

Just two days after the Paddington crash, whilst the bodies were still being counted, LUL and the government announced the shortlist of bidders for the Tube PPP. Railtrack already had a preliminary agreement to take over the Sub-Surface Lines. The contenders for the other two Infracos were:
BCV

  • Metronet - Adtranz, Balfour Beatty, WS Atkins, Thames Water, Seeboard
  • Linc - Mowlem, Fluor Daniel, Alcatel Telecom, Anglian Water, Bombardier

JNP

  • TubeLines - Bechtel, Amey, Hyder, Jarvis, Halcrow
  • TubeRail - Brown and Root, Alstom, Amec, Tarmac, Carillion

These were mostly companies already involved in either the railway or construction industries, and had shameful records on workers' rights and safety far too long to list here.

Amey was the company responsible for signal SN109 at Paddington; WS Atkins had advised Thames Trains not to fit ATP. And the others?

Adtranz had delivered new Central Line trains late. Balfour Beatty was fined a (then) record £1.2m over a tunnel collapse at Heathrow airport in 1994, and was responsible for the track maintenance at Hatfield at the time of the fatal crash in 2000. Thames Water had been repeatedly prosecuted for pollution, and had put up its prices by 35% in real terms since privatisation.

Ken Livingstone condemned John Mowlem & co for "Road building, water pollution and Tory Party donations" and Alcatel for "Serving in nuclear industry; operation in several oppressive regimes including Indonesia; number 17 on the 1996 list of the top-40 worldwide defence production companies." A former employee sued Fluor Daniel for systematically defrauding the US government. Anglian Water was one of the top offenders in the Environment Agency's 'Hall of Shame'. Bombardier was quick to declare its plan to introduce driverless trains on the Victoria line.

Bechtel was project manager on the Jubilee Line Extension and had a global reputation for exploiting and endangering ordinary people in the pursuit of profit, from the US nuclear industry to the Bolivian water sell-off. Hyder, a water company, had a long record of pollution and poor services, and had caused an employee to lose both arms by 'forgetting' to put up warning signs by electrical cables. Jarvis was one of the main contractors on the mainline railway, and would go into crisis following its complicity in the Potters Bar crash (2002) and the King's Cross derailment (2003).

Brown and Root had been at the centre of a major corruption scandal in Taiwan, and had paid out $750m in compensation after its mismanagement of the South Texas Nuclear Project. Alstom and Amec had both failed the Underground previously - Alstom delivering new Northern Line trains four years late, Amec being involved in the track construction for the Jubilee Line Extension. Tarmac and Carillion originated in the same company: both had been condemned by environmental campaigners for their role in unpopular construction projects eg. the M3 extension through Twyford Down, and by trade unionists, for refusing to recognise unions and laying off workers who were sick.

Since the Tories, then New Labour, had invited the private sector into public services, many of these firms had made it their business to exploit the profit-making opportunities offered to them. They recognised that Labour's leadership was keen to serve business, and wanted to keep it that way.

9 October 1999 - CATP protest festival in Trafalgar Square

THE RAIL UNIONS AND THE LABOUR PARTY

Whilst members fought on the front line, our unions' political representatives had more comfortable seats. But were they using them to represent our views?

Ironically, some of PPP's Parliamentary advocates were sponsored by railway unions. RMT's Parliamentary group included John Prescott and Transport Minister Keith Hill (a former employee of the union); ASLEF's included Glenda Jackson.

John McDonnell MP summed up matters well by writing to the Campaign Against Tube Privatisation that "It is a pity that some of the MPs and Ministers who are in Parliament as a result of RMT support have not remained true to union policy. If they had, we would not be in this mess." McDonnell was one of a handful of Labour MPs who did support our fight, others including Tony Benn, John Cryer, John Marek and Gavin Strang.

Blair's regime had closed down many of the channels within the Labour Party through which members and unions could dissent against his political march to the right. However, some such channels are still open - Labour, unlike any other mainstream party, does have some structures for unions to have an official say. How well did the unions use these?

RMT Assistant General Secretary Vernon Hince sat on the Labour Party's National Executive Committee for several years. He rarely raised his voice above a whisper against privatisation. Indeed, he chaired Party conference during the fight against PPP, and ruled 'out of order' a resolution criticising the government over the Private Finance Initiative!

At the grass-roots level, activists were more principled and energetic. Whenever we went to Labour Party meetings, we got support from the members, but obstruction from the Party machine. RMT submitted a resolution condemning PPP to the Greater London Labour conference in November 2000. The Standing Orders Committee disallowed it, but the delegates overturned the SOC's ruling and went on to pass the resolution. So the Labour Party leadership ignored the policy.

In general, the unions were not fighting as hard as they should have done through the Labour Party's own structures. Where they did fight, they won the argument. But the Blair regime simply dismissed any policy decision that it did not like. So even if the unions had fought harder, it is unlikely to have made a decisive difference in stopping Tube privatisation.

Union members consistently complained about our subs money being given to government ministers who were privatising us. RMT's Annual General Meeting agreed as early as 1998 to withdraw sponsorship from MPs who backed PPP. But the union's leaders still had a cosy relationship with the Labour leaders, so the policy was swept under the carpet until after Jimmy Knapp died and Bob Crow became General Secretary in 2002. Just as ASLEF had only changed tack on PPP when members ousted Adams and elected Rix.

Credit to Crow and Rix for carrying these changes through. But this situation is wrong. It should be down to members, not General Secretaries, to decide what the union does. When the members make a decision through the union's democratic structures, it is the leadership's job to carry it out, not to sit on it.

RMT now only works with Labour MPs who support its policies. ASLEF and TSSA continue to support privatisers and Blairite lackeys.

February 2000 - 'Listen to London' publishes 'Funding London Underground - Financial Myths and Economic Realities', written by academics

LONDON'S MAYOR ELECTION

New Labour's internal tyranny plumbed new depths with the farcical selection of its candidate for Mayor of London. The Tory government had scrapped the Greater London Council (GLC) in the 1980s. Now the Labour government was going to restore London-wide elected local government, albeit in a much more limited form. The new Greater London Assembly (GLA) was to be smaller than the GLC, and could only scrutinise the actions of the directly-elected Mayor, who had responsibility for fewer policy areas than the old GLC had. It was not the structure that the London labour movement wanted, but at least it was a structure.

The Tories' first-choice candidate was Jeffrey Archer, whose policies included no-strike bonuses to Tube staff, but who was dropped when he fell foul of the law. Steven Norris took on the Tory rosette. The Liberal Democrats put up Susan Kramer, who told voters that she would be the best person to run the capital's transport because of her background in banking!

The Labour Party had to hold some sort of selection process, but was determined to stitch it up so that Ken Livingstone did not win. Livingstone was a former leader of the GLC who had a reputation as a left-winger which he did not deserve. Nevertheless, he said he opposed Tube privatisation, and he had shown some independence from the Millbank line, so - from Blair's point of view - he had to be stopped. Blair's 'poodle' candidate was Frank Dobson.

The Party machine used spurious excuses to disallow the votes of ASLEF, RMT and other trade unions. It constructed an 'electoral college' weighted so that even if a big majority of Party members and trade unions voted for Livingstone, the votes of loyal Blairite MPs, MEPs and GLA candidates would give Dobson his 'victory'.

21 February 2000 - Frank Dobson 'selected' as Labour candidate for Mayor of London

And so it happened. In the selection, Livingstone polled 74,000 votes, Dobson 22,000, but Dobson 'won' and became Labour candidate for London Mayor.

6 March 2000 - Ken Livingstone announces that he will stand for Mayor as an independent

Ken Livingstone's record showed that he was no great ally of Tube workers. When he had been our boss in the 1980s, he had begun the process of scrapping guards. And he was obviously motivated primarily by personal ambition. Workers' Liberty had warned against him for years, even when most of the left held him up as their champion.

28 March 2000 - RMT's London Transport Regional Council votes to back Livingstone

But by late 1999, it was clear that Ken Livingstone was the only candidate who could stop Frank Dobson (and therefore Tony Blair) winning control of London, and that a Livingstone victory would boost the fight against PPP. We had to back him both in Labour's selection, and when he ran as an independent candidate for Mayor.

12 April 2000 - Campaign Against Tube Privatisation protest outside Balfour Beatty's office, together with campaigners against the Ilisu Dam

GREATER LONDON ASSEMBLY

Labour's stitch-up also extended to its GLA candidates. Every nominee was processed through a 'loyalty commission', which weeded out candidates who opposed PPP. Party members attended hustings where pre-selected, pre-approved candidates competed as to who had the best business record. There was not one amongst them deserving of our vote.

Tube workers had three choices: vote for the Blairites like turkeys voting for Christmas; sit out the election; or force our way onto the election agenda. ASLEF and TSSA kept to their official support for Labour (although ASLEF backed Livingstone for Mayor). Workers' Liberty proposed a resolution to RMT's London Transport Regional Council that we approach other trade unionists and socialists to stand candidates to represent workers' interests. The resolution was passed.

Other socialists around London were thinking similar thoughts. The London Socialist Alliance (LSA) brought together several small left-wing groups (including Workers' Liberty) and included trade unionists from most of the public services and other industries. The LSA declared that "By supporting the Socialist Alliance you can elect people to the Greater London Assembly who will speak up for workers, the jobless, pensioners and students, and against the bankers, the bosses, and the profiteers. You can speak out against the way New Labour has abandoned many of those who elected it in 1997 in order to serve big business. And you can say you want a government that serves the working class as the Tories serve the rich."

There was a potential for trade unionists and socialists to put together a united team of candidates who might make PPP a big issue in the election and may even get a Tube worker, or a firm ally, elected to the new GLA. But sadly, RMT's regional leadership had re-interpreted the Regional Council's policy: instead of approaching others, they chose instead to go it alone, standing under the banner of the Campaign Against Tube Privatisation. CATP refused overtures from the LSA for a united election campaign. There could have been a united list, with Tube workers prominent, and other workers included too. With PPP the headline issue, but socialist policies on other issues as well.

4 May 2000 - Mayor / Greater London Assembly election

But on election day, we ended up with the LSA and CATP running separate, competing lists (plus separate lists from the Socialist Labour Party and the Communist Party of Britain). All had delusions about how well they would do. Faced with an anti-privatisation left looking divided and marginal, most voters who wanted to oppose PPP voted for the LibDems (who opportunistically added 'against Tube sell-off' to their party name), or stuck with Labour, or stayed at home. The LSA got only 1.6% of the vote, CATP just 1%. We will never know if a united campaign could have scored the 5% necessary to win a seat. It was a wasted opportunity.

ALL QUIET ON THE INDUSTRIAL FRONT

It had been important for the Tube unions to push the fight against PPP into the arena of the Mayor and GLA elections. If we had tied our election campaigning together with industrial action, the momentum would have been more powerful still. Sadly though, once again, the unions used political campaigning as an alternative - rather than a complement - to industrial campaigning. Strikes took a back seat during the election period.

21 July 2000 - Over a hundred people attend RMT protest at John Prescott's office

At least RMT and ASLEF were working together in ever-increasing unity. In 2000, for the first time in years, the two unions (together with TSSA) submitted a joint pay claim. This prompted LUL management to make a better offer than usual (4% pay rise plus shorter working hours for some grades). But had the unions gone one step further and called joint strikes, they could have won a better pay rise and caused trouble for PPP. Throughout the run-up to privatisation, London Underground, the government and the prospective new owners wanted industrial peace. We should have denied them at every available opportunity.

25 September 2000 - Industrial Society report warns that PPP represents poor value for money and jeopardises passenger safety

Workers' Liberty argued for the fight against privatisation to be relaunched in the wake of the Mayor election. We set out ten key features of an effective campaign.

  • Rank-and-file Tube workers should be in the driving seat.
  • Union branches should go out and campaign.
  • We should organise solidarity with other public-sector workers fighting privatisation - teachers, air traffic controllers, local government workers.
  • Action, protest, mobilisation - we needed everything from small-scale direct action to a huge-scale demonstration.
  • The unions should refuse to co-operate with the preparations for PPP.
  • Safety was the key issue.
  • We should fight on each and every workplace issue.
  • The shortlisted companies should be exposed as the profit-hungry, murderous cowboys they are.
  • The unions must unite.
  • We should all strike together.

26 September 2000 - Labour Party conference votes against the government, demanding Automatic Train Protection instead of Train Protection Warning System

MAYORAL APPOINTMENTS

Once elected Mayor, Ken Livingstone began to fill the various posts within his gift, including the Board of Transport for London (TfL). Rather than organise elections so that passengers and workers could choose our own representatives, Livingstone hand-picked the Board.

There were a few trade union big names, although union members did not get the chance to vote for who should represent us. There were also representatives of business, and Ken even found jobs for defeated Mayoral opponents Steve Norris and Susan Kramer.

He no doubt hoped to appear generous and pluralist. But in reality, Livingstone was overturning the wishes of the London electorate, who had explicitly voted that we did not want Tories or LibDems running London's transport. Livingstone won the Mayor election because of popular opposition to Tube privatisation and New Labour's control freakery. Against this, his alternative should have been labour movement democracy and principled socialist politics. Instead, he set up alliances with bosses and their political servants, and enacted control freakery of his own.

9 October 2000 - Mayor Livingstone announces the appointment of Robert Kiley as Commissioner of Transport for London

Ken Livingstone's highest profile appointment was Bob Kiley. Kiley had been Chief Executive of New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro). As the Daily Telegraph reported, "He is credited with a transformation of the New York Subway after winning a political struggle to impose modern management methods that outraged the transport unions."

Workers in many industries know from bitter experience that 'modern management methods' usually means attacks on workers and our unions. And so it had been on the New York Subway. Kiley's regime had brought in a bullying management team, increased the pace of work, tried to impose a two-tier pay structure, imposed lower pay for new starters, cut bonuses for night and weekend working, cut the number of (hourly-paid) workers by 10%, increased the number of disciplinaries, slashed revenue subsidies and increased fares, and brought in private companies to do maintenance work. Kiley had introduced 'concession bargaining', meaning that the unions gave up working conditions as part of each year's pay round.

Earlier in his career, in the 1960s, Kiley had worked for the CIA, including a spell as director of operations for its 'clandestine service unit'. According to the BBC, he "travelled the world in the 1960s fighting Communism and spying on radical students".

21 October 2000 - RMT protest outside Railtrack House, Euston

Ken's gift to Bob Kiley was not just a new job, but a salary of £250,000, with the chance to double this in 'performance-related' bonuses, plus rent-free use of a £2.1m Georgian house in Belgravia, bought for him by TfL. 'Red' Ken Livingstone had created a new fat cat - one of the highest-paid transport chiefs in Europe, and amongst the best-paid public employees in Britain. Livingstone claimed that to get a world-class London Underground, he needed to pay world-class salaries, but we have yet to see the same principle apply to pay negotiations for Tube workers.

It came as no surprise to see Kiley's appointment welcomed by Norris, Kramer and the London Chamber of Commerce. But the Tube trade unions' leaders also expressed their approval. It seemed that they were so desperate for good news and apparent allies that they were prepared to ignore the facts about Kiley. It was good enough that he opposed PPP, even though his opposition was on technical, financial grounds, rather than principled support for publicly-owned public transport.

24 October 2000 - RMT/CATP lobby of Mayor's first 'people's question time' at Westminster Central Hall

Meanwhile, Ken Livingstone ordered an 'independent enquiry' into PPP. This may have sounded like a potential propaganda blow to privatisation, but it was actually a step backwards for our campaign. We had already won the argument: everyone knew PPP was wrong - now we needed action to stop it. We needed our new, anti-PPP Mayor to mobilise a big campaign to stop PPP. But he did not.

11 November 2000 - RMT protest at Greater London Labour Party Conference

THE UNIONS UNITE

By the end of 2000, rank-and-file pressure was mounting for renewed industrial action to stop PPP. RMT and ASLEF's leaders responded by launching a joint strike ballot. (Even at this time of unprecedented urgency and unity, TSSA sat it out.)

8 January 2001 - 'Save Our Tube' public rally, organised by RMT and ASLEF, addressed by Ken Livingstone, John Monks, Bob Crow and Mick Rix

RMT and ASLEF jointly demanded:

  • the establishment of a new, joint union/employer safety body to control all safety issues on the Underground;
  • a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies;
  • no staff to be transferred to a new employer without their agreement.

LUL refused to agree. Together with their cheerleaders at the Evening Standard, management claimed that the demands were not about safety, but about 'jobs for life'. They ignored the fact that railway safety relies heavily on the role of experienced, qualified, safety-conscious workers. One reason why British Rail privatisation had been such a safety disaster was that experienced workers were pushed out, to be replaced by casual, contract labour.

Management, government and newspapers repeated the mantra that "no-one can expect a job for life any more", as though everyone just knew this was true. But why not? If people are prepared to commit their working lives to the railway, why should they not have security? A truer version would have been "Capitalism will not guarantee 'jobs for life' because it wants the flexibility to pick up and drop workers as it suits". In other words, this was not about 'modern reality', but about employers' power and the drive for profit.

ASLEF and RMT's unity inspired members of both unions. The big majority of Underground workers want unity: most think we should all be in one union, and that whilst we are not, they should at least work together. So RMT and ASLEF activists attended each other's branch meetings, and came together in an ad hoc, rank-and-file 'Joint Union Strike Organising Committee'. The head offices organised joint strike rallies and sent out joint letters, signed by both Jimmy Knapp and Mick Rix.

Encouraged by this new and welcome unity, members of both unions delivered a massive 'Yes' vote for strike action.

January 2001 - Strike ballot result: RMT 89%; ASLEF 75%; overall 85% Yes

'JUSTICE' AND DEFIANCE

London Underground ran scared, and ran straight to the courts. Justice Gibbs duly obliged, and granted an injunction banning RMT from striking. The 'grounds' for the injunction were that the union had not provided the employer with sufficient information as to who would be taking part in the strike.

1 February 2001 - Justice Gibbs grants an injunction declaring RMT's strike vote invalid

Under a previous anti-union law, introduced by the Tories, trade unions had to supply employers with the names of workers who would strike. Labour had replaced this with a new regulation compelling unions to give not names, but detailed information. Justice Gibbs ruled that this meant a spreadsheet listing numbers of members in every grade and work location. Across London Underground, that meant over 400 locations and dozens of grades. Each week, around 150 LUL staff changed grade and/or location.

Both Tory and Labour governments had designed the law to force unions to help management undermine strikes. It was like having a law saying that if your local non-League football club drew Manchester United in the FA Cup, it had to hand over its team sheet and game plan to United a week before kick-off. Additionally, in an industry like the Tube, it was impossible in practice for the RMT to comply. But LUL was not asking the courts to uphold justice: it was asking them to take the employer's side and stop the strike.

LUL did not seek to injunct ASLEF at this point. Partly, the case would have been harder to prove, because ASLEF only represents train crew, and so its membership information is much simpler. Partly, management wanted to divide the unions. And partly, they probably wanted to keep some powder dry and keep ASLEF scared of future legal action.

RMT's head office leadership bowed down and complied. Jimmy Knapp rushed a personal letter to every RMT member's home, telling them to go to work on the strike day. But the rank and file, and our local reps on the Tube, were made of sterner stuff.

Within hours of the judge's ruling, Executive member John Leach appeared on a public platform - an anti-cuts rally in Hackney - telling LUL and the courts to 'stuff their injunction' and pledging that members would respect ASLEF picket lines and take unofficial action.

Activists organised to defy the judge, RMT members filling in ASLEF membership forms to get round the ban. We understood that if we all stood firm, management could not touch us. We would trust our solidarity, and organise effective picketing. With the union head offices allowing themselves to be gagged by the law, independently-produced bulletins were more important than ever. As events developed fast, Workers' Liberty published three issues of its Tube workers' bulletin during that week alone.

2 February 2001 - John Prescott announces he has asked Bob Kiley to 'modify' PPP

The Labour government was reeling from the ballot result, the prospect of a united and effective strike, and the obvious public support for the Tube workers' action. John Prescott announced a new 'deal' with Bob Kiley. He would postpone PPP until after the General Election; allow Kiley access to key information; and allow him to appoint a new layer of public-sector managers to oversee the private-sector involvement.

The government was trying to convince Tube workers that there was no longer any need to strike. Ken Livingstone used this development to withdraw his support from the strike (although the Evening Standard still denounced him for refusing to condemn it) and to renege on his earlier promise to join our picket lines. But we saw through the bogus, meaningless 'deal' that would still see PPP go ahead, and remained determined to strike.

5 February 2001 - ASLEF strikes officially; RMT unofficially

The ASLEF strike went ahead, and was joined by thousands of RMT members, unofficially, in defiance of management intimidation, the court's injunction, and union head office instructions.

It was fantastically effective. Only 8% of train services ran: in the morning peak, only 39 out of 476 trains were in service. The atmosphere on the picket lines was tremendous. ASLEF and RMT stood shoulder to shoulder. Members of the public shook our hands.

London Underground Ltd made a series of threats - as well as the injunction, there were specific threats of legal action against named RMT reps and unspecified allegations of 'aggressive picketing'. The company even banned RMT's Regional Organiser from its premises for an unsubstantiated accusation of violence. But because we all stood together, all of these threats came to nothing.

It was certainly the high point of the campaign. We tasted the strength that could have taken us on to victory against the hated Public-Private Partnership.

6 February 2001 - protest against the injunction at the Royal Courts of Justice, organised by the United Campaign for the Repeal of the Anti-Trade Union Laws

(TSSA members please note. At this, the height of our struggle, when management and the government were giving way to pressure from Underground workers, when everyone else was united ... Your 'union' not only did not strike, it told its members to cross picket lines and go to work. It did not sit on the fence - in a situation like this, that is impossible - but actively sided with management and helped privatisation. Fortunately for the rest of us, TSSA is so small and weak that it made little difference.)

ASLEF BOWS OUT

Then, just when Tube workers were at our strongest, ASLEF's leadership lost its nerve. It called off the strikes scheduled for 12 and 19 February, and moved towards accepting a very weak settlement.

Workers' Liberty had argued from the outset that "The unity must stay firm: we ballot together, we go out together, we go back together - no separate deals, no sell-outs." But here was ASLEF taking the recently-united unions apart again, sending them in opposite directions over PPP. Just as RMT was re-balloting its members to get a legal mandate to strike.

9 March 2001 - RMT strike (re-)ballot result: 2,071 Yes, 176 No

RMT members delivered a giant two-fingered gesture to the judge - an even bigger majority to strike, up from 9-1 to 11-1! It was a fantastic display of our determination to fight, and surprised even some union officials, who had made despondent predictions of a decreased majority. Underground workers had lined up to fight, courage proven, powerful weapons at the ready. Yet still ASLEF's leaders ordered their battalions to retreat.

LUL had conceded the unions' demand for a joint safety body, but had made no significant movement on the other issues. ASLEF settled its dispute with LUL for a deal that committed the employer only to 'work with the trade unions' to 'avoid compulsory redundancies'. It was an agreement only to talk, not to prevent attacks on workers. Although Mick Rix talked up the deal, many people suspected that the real reason for his surrender was government pressure and fear of legal action.

21 March 2001 - ASLEF settles its dispute with London Underground

At first the vote on ASLEF's Executive was tied 3-3, with Tube representative Terry Wilkinson voting against. But Rix paused, took the vote again, and it was passed.

ASLEF's leaders had sold their members for a fraction of their worth. And they had done so without consulting the members. Had they consulted, they would have found the ASLEF rank-and-file still ready and willing to fight. ASLEF's Seven Sisters branch spoke for many when it passed a resolution condemning the Executive's sell-out and demanding that the fight be resumed.

26 March 2001 - Joint RMT/ASLEF Rally for Tube Safety

RMT PRESSES AHEAD, THEN BACKS DOWN

RMT did not accept LUL's offer, and pressed ahead with a further strike, timed to coincide with the International Transport Federation's 'worldwide railway safety day'.

28-29 March 2001 - RMT 24-hour strike

It became clear that, whatever Rix said, ASLEF members still considered themselves to be in dispute, and the big majority joined in the action unofficially. Five years previously, there had been tit-for-tat crossing of the other union's picket lines. Now there was tit-for-tat respect: solidarity in action.

This solidarity delivered a strike even more effective than February's. 94% of train services were cancelled. At 8am, only 31 of 475 scheduled trains were running. The Corporation of London reported that the capital's businesses had lost £100m.

17 April 2001 - RMT mass meeting of members

The fight was still very much on, and RMT named a further strike day: 3 May.

24 April 2001 - RMT & ASLEF announce they will ballot train drivers over 'remote booking'

In April, RMT and ASLEF announced a joint dispute over facilities for drivers when they book on duty somewhere other than their home depot - 'remote booking'. Although this was an important issue for some drivers, it looked like a fig leaf to cover ASLEF's embarrassment at dumping the fight against privatisation.

By standing firm in the dispute over safety and PPP, Tube workers had the upper hand. With the General Election approaching, the Labour leadership was getting nervous about losing support and losing seats. If the leaders of the wider trade union movement had thrown their weight behind our action, we could have pushed forward to stop privatisation. But instead, TUC leaders John Monks and Brendan Barber entered the scene … on the side of the employer!

1 May 2001 - John Monks and Brendan Barber attend talks between LUL and RMT at ACAS

Monks and Barber turned up at the ACAS negotiations. Whatever slightly-reworded (but still wholly inadequate) 'offer' LUL made, they urged RMT to accept. Their motivation was not to win for workers, but to bring about peace for New Labour, whatever the cost to workers or to the public railway.

On the eve of the strike, LUL produced a new set of words which won over Bob Crow. LUL workers' own elected representative, John Leach, did not want the union to accept it. But Crow - just as Rix had - got the union's General Grades Committee (GGC) to vote again and again until it made the decision he wanted it to make. (The GGC is the section of the Council of Executives that deals with industrial matters on the roads and railways.) Less than four hours before the strike was due to start, the RMT's GGC voted to call it off. The strike's suspension was proposed by the representative for Scotland, and passed against the opposition of the London Transport representative and two other Executive members (Alex Gordon and Paul Burton).

2 May 2001 - RMT's General Grades Committee calls off strike scheduled for 3 May

In both ASLEF and RMT, the wishes of the members involved in the dispute had been overturned by a committee whose majority was people not involved, not elected by the members involved, and who would not have to live with the consequences of their surrender. It illustrates well why we need to change the way unions make these decisions. Decisions on disputes - what to demand, when to strike, when to settle - should be made by mass meetings or elected bodies of the workers involved.

4 May 2001 - Tony Blair appoints Bob Kiley to be Chairman of London Transport, responsible for negotiating contracts with the PPP bidders

RMT's London Underground members had good reason to reject the offer that Bob Crow wanted us to accept. At a meeting the following week at the Royal National Hotel, rep after rep made the case against it:

  • The offer was simply not good enough eg. It did not guarantee no compulsory redundancies; instead, it promised only one job offer to anyone losing their job.
  • If we stuck to our guns, we could win more.
  • We were having our best, most effective industrial action for years, and had the employer and the government on the ropes - it made no sense to back down now.
  • We were supposed to be fighting PPP, but if we accepted this offer, PPP would still go ahead.

In all, 24 of the 25 reps who spoke were opposed to the offer. Crow later admitted that he had his 'balls chewed' at the meeting. The union's Executive accepted the reps' views, rejected LUL's offer, and kept the union in dispute.

8 May 2001 - RMT reps' meeting rejects LUL's offer and demands more strikes

Rank-and-file RMT reps and activists were justifiably proud of ourselves. We had asserted ourselves against our own leadership, instead of meekly doing as we were told. Our region's representative, John Leach, had stood with his members rather than with head office bureaucrats. Whilst Crow and the Executive had stumbled under pressure from the government and the TUC, we had not.

However, the dispute had lost some momentum, and significant damage had been done. If we had a strong rank-and-file organisation, we might have repaired the damage and taken control of our own fight. But we did not. The ball was back in head office's court.

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