London Underground Managing Director Andy Lord has written to every member of LU staff to urge us not to participate in RMT's industrial action ballot, which began yesterday (13 December). As news of this unprecedented communication spread amongst colleagues and through staff WhatsApp groups, those of us still at home went scurrying to the doormat, like excited children on Christmas morning, to see if our letter had arrived.
Sadly, Santa Lord's missive contains little in the way of seasonal cheer, and quite a lot in the way of misleading distortions and cynical spin. Let's go through Lord's key claims in turn...
“Not a single person has or will lose their job by the changes proposed to date in London Underground.”
The use of the words “to date” in that sentence will do little to comfort those worried about the future. But let's take Lord at face value here and agree that job cuts won't be achieved through compulsory redundancies, but through deleting vacancies. That might be better as a zero-sum choice, but RMT is right to refuse to accept those terms. Deleting vacant positions is still a reduction in jobs, meaning increased workload for those who remain, and fewer opportunities for promotion and transfer. It's also hundreds fewer stable, relatively well-paid, unionised jobs for future workers to take up.
Lord goes on to claim that “any change will not compromise the safety of our colleagues and customers”. This is a quite extraordinary statement. We challenge Lord, or any advocate for the company's proposals, to explain how cutting staffing levels on stations but up to 600 posts will not “compromise safety”.
“There are currently NO plans to change existing terms and conditions.”
For staff in SRT and revenue, this is a straightforward lie. Both groups of workers face significant changes to their Framework agreements, radically altering the times and locations at which they can work. Drivers, of course, have already seen a change to terms and conditions imposed via Night Tube grade consolidation.
More broadly, Lord is using a cheap rhetorical trick, based on the idea that there's a hard-and-fast distinction between “proposals” and “plans”. There are “proposals” to “change existing terms and conditions”: LU has made clear that, in its ongoing reviews, all agreements, policies, and procedures – the documents that substantially make up our “terms and conditions” - are under the microscope. Already, the company has announced proposed changes to the Attendance At Work policy, backing away from them partially under the threat of strikes by Aslef and insisting they were “only proposals”.
Lord wants to lull us into a false sense of security; if we sit back and wait for all the company's “reviews” and “proposals” to harden into firm “plans”, it'll already be too late.
“There are currently NO plans to change the TfL pension – it's only a review.”
See above. There are very clear indications that the pension scheme will be attacked; previous reviews have described it as “outdated” and “in need of reform”. The idea that it will be left alone is ludicrous.
“We want to work with our trade unions.”
Firstly, Andy, they're not “your” trade unions, they're ours. They don't belong to the company, they belong to us, the members, and they exist to defend and improve our conditions, not to “work with” bosses in implementing cuts.
What Lord presumably means here is that he wants unions to turn themselves into an arm of management in order to help design the most efficient cuts package possible, and help sell it to their members. Any organisation that colluded in such treachery wouldn't be worthy of the name “union”.
Some of Lord's most risible phrases come at the end, where he says: “We're a team, and it has never been more important that we are all on the same side.”
Very few LU workers, especially those whose jobs – unlike Andy Lord's – have not allowed us the relative safety of working from home throughout the pandemic, will feel like they're part of any “team” that includes senior management, or on “the same side” as the likes of Lord.
Andy Lord is paid a basic salary of nearly £300,000, more than ten times what a CSA2 earns and nearly fifteen times what a cleaner earns. And now he, along with other senior managers paid similarly inflated salaries, are telling us that cuts have to be made on the front line. In what possible sense are we “on the same side”?
Throughout the letter, Lord claims that RMT has failed to provide an alternative vision for “change”. In this, he is quite wrong; RMT has, over a number of years, proposed a whole tranche of possible changes that could improve TfL/LU's financial situation. They include cutting senior management pay, scrapping highly-paid management consultant roles, and in-housing expensive outsourcing projects. Not reinstating senior management's £12 million bonus scheme might also have been a good idea. (Oh, and while we think of it... how much did sending a letter to 10,000+ staff cost?) But as Andy Lord apparently isn't up for tightening his own belt to make ends meet, he hardly has any right to criticise workers for resisting the cuts that affect us.
As we've said before, Andy Lord, the wider TfL management, and Mayor Khan have a choice: they can accept the Department for Transport's insistence that workers must pay for the financial crisis caused by the Tories' abolition of TfL's grant, or they can refuse to make cuts and join with unions in campaigning for decent funding. As a standard-issue New Labour politician, it's not in Khan's DNA to do that, but the choice he, and Lord, are faced with is same one municipal authorities are always faced with when national governments demand cuts: capitulate, or resist. We've chosen our course, and it's pretty clear Lord and Khan have chosen theirs. The question now is whether we can organise sufficiently effective action to force them to abandon that course.
On balance, it's likely Lord's letter will help the RMT rather than hinder it. It has gone out to all staff (not just RMT members, as management doesn't know who's in which union), meaning it's an additional reminder that RMT's ballot is happening for anyone who might've missed it. And we highly doubt whether Lord's spin will be sufficient to convince anyone. But if anyone in your mess room seems persuaded by its arguments, send them this article, and print a few copies to put around. Let's get the vote out!