Waterloo & City Line strikers speak out

Published on: Mon, 12/10/2015 - 20:17

Service controllers on the Waterloo and City Line on London Underground (LU) have been fighting for regrading to reflect the responsible nature of their work. They struck from 28-30 September. One of the activists spoke to Tubeworker.

The dispute goes back to 2006/7, when the signalling for the line was moved to a new control centre. That meant we had more responsibilities, and were working with new equipment. Previously we'd been signallers, now we were doing controllers' work – but LU didn't upgrade us. We were told we'd be moved up to “Controller 1”, the lowest grade of controller. But in 2008, the company reneged, saying that the financial crisis meant they couldn't afford it!

The dispute has been ongoing ever since. Over the years there's been a steady stream of new procedures and technologies being introduced. We're doing work equivalent to the highest grade of controller, but we're still in a separate grade.

An offer was made to us last year to upgrade us if we worked additional Sundays. But at the last minute, the company informed us they'd pay for it by cutting jobs in another grade at our depot. We didn't want our promotion to come at the price of jobs elsewhere, so we refused.

We struck from 28-30 September, the first time we've taken action in the dispute. The strike was solid, but management kept the service running by drafting in hordes of managers to cover the work. It was really overkill. However, controllers from another depot who were asked to come in to cover the work refused to do so, which was positive.

We were directly attacked on the front page of the Evening Standard, in an article that bemoaned the fact that small numbers had voted in our strike ballot. We felt the attack was very personal, and that we were being picked on for working in a small workplace.

The managers who covered the work on our strike day were qualified on paper, but not used to working in our environment. If we take action again, we'd encourage other grades of staff, particularly drivers, to call up and make sure that whoever's running the line is properly trained and competent.

We're looking to take more action towards the end of the year, and are exploring different forms of industrial action.

What's happening to us is part of a wider picture. London Underground is cutting staff in a variety of areas, and our experiences – of essentially being promoted to more responsible roles, involving more work, without that being reflected in our pay – mirror what's currently happening to station staff. They've picked on us particularly because we're a small unit, but if we can win our fight for justice it might inspire other grades in other areas.

The mood in the workplace is extremely angry. To make sure that anger fuels a resolve to continue fighting, we need continued communication from the union, and regular updates from talks and negotiations so we can decide the best way forward for our dispute.

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If LU isn't listening, we have to make ourselves impossible to ignore.

Published on: Sat, 10/10/2015 - 00:06

Union reps on stations are currently busy conducting another "roster consultation" process. We went through this once already in the spring; LU released absolutely nightmarish draft rosters, which involved drastic reductions in weekends off for almost all of us, a big increase in lone working, "cover weeks" (when we'll have no notice of duties or rest days), and of course a big reduction in staffing levels.

Our strikes over the summer forced the company to bin the rosters and start again. (There's a lesson in that.)

The new ones are a bit better: a lot of weekends off have been restored, and blocks of cover weeks have one or two rest days put in. But the rosters are still based on cutting staff levels, and the very principle of "cover weeks" is dangerous (with no firm commitment on what notice we'll get of what we'll be doing, making it next to impossible to plan our lives). Many rosters also feature fatigue-inducing working patterns (seven on, one off, one on, one off, seven on...).

We have been saying to the company: we have lives outside of work. We need time to spend with our families. We need to be able to plan our time off. We need rosters that don't mean we're too tired to do anything meaningful on our days off. Despite some improvements from the spring drafts, it seems the company still isn't listening.

So what are we going to do about it? Very few of us have much faith in the "consultation" process; ultimately, it was our strikes, and not convincing arguments from reps in meetings with managers, that forced the company to budge. So if we want further changes to rosters, we need to look at taking more action.

We still have a live all-grades mandate for further action. We need to let the company know that toothless "consultations" and faltering negotiations cannot continue forever. If more strikes are needed, then so be it. Strike ballots for Piccadilly Line drivers and DLR staff are due back around 20-22 October. Tubeworker reckons we should start by reinstating our overtime ban, and, if necessary, building towards more action to coordinate with the DLR.

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W&C Service Controllers Strike Back

Published on: Mon, 21/09/2015 - 13:40

Waterloo and City line service controllers will strike for 48 hours next week in their fight to have their job uprated.

W&C controllers are paid less than every other service controller on the job - they have a grade all to themselves so that the company can pay them five grand less than others. They are even paid less than some signal operators.

This is despite the fact that their job includes signal operations, line control and line information, and despite new equipment being installed in their control room.

LUL offered to uprate them last year, but when they found out that this would be at the cost of jobs in other grades in the depot, they refused to accept.

These services controllers have shown solidarity with other grades, so let's all show solidarity with them.

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Tell LU: The Clock Is Ticking! Count Down To More Action!

Published on: Thu, 17/09/2015 - 19:56

Talks between LU and the unions on our disputes over pay/Night Tube and job cuts (and other issues relating to "Fit for the Future - Stations") are ongoing. Negotiators say they are making progress, and significant concessions, such as LU's commitment to retain fixed-term contract station staff on a permanent basis, are being welcomed across the job.

But no-one wants talks to plod along indefinitely. If LU appears unlikely to concede much more than it has currently, we need to either give up, or step up. Tubeworker believes we should do the latter!

As talks continue over the next month, union reps and activists should get out around stations and depots to prepare members for the possibility of more action. The message must be: the disputes are not over, and if we don't get further concrete commitments from the company on stations jobs, no increases in weekend working, proper compensations for station staff forced into unpaid promotions (or the option not to be forced into a supervisorial or managerial job!), and other issues, we will take more action.

We reckon that if we're no further on this time next month, we should look to resume action. For starters, the overtime ban could be reinstated on stations and in fleet depots, where it was hurting the company.

Negotiators say we may be close to getting an offer from the company on many of those issues. Members will have to assess it against their own willingness to take further action to win more. But that isn't a fixed quantity; a strong campaign of propaganda and information by unions (all unions!) to galvanise members to take more action could embolden us and inspire us with the confidence needed for another push.

We must also avoid a situation where getting our pay rise means having to sign up to "Fit for the Future". We can never accept any "settlement" that involves job cuts, ticket office closures, and unpaid promotions and regradings. Not being strong enough to force LU to abandon "Fit for the Future" is one thing, but we don't have to agree to a settlement that institutionalises it. Any deal that links pay and "Fit for the Future" in this way, and requires us to sign up to or endorse it in order to get a pay rise, should be rejected.

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Update Please

Published on: Wed, 02/09/2015 - 08:19

Tube workers gradually found out via rumour and the BBC that RMT will not, after all, strike on 8 and 10 September. The usual text and email notifications were not sent out. This is presumably because the union never actually officially put the strikes on - instead, it declared its intention to call them - so it hasn't, technically, called them off.

It is not clear what progress has been made to warrant this further suspension of action. We know that Night Tube has been postponed, but with management and the Mayor saying they still intend for it to start in the Autumn, it has not been postponed for long.

And we're keen to know what progress has been made in the dispute over stations job cuts since the unions declared their intention to strike next week.

Unfortunately, keeping up with the comings and goings of the disputes is becoming increasingly difficult for rank-and-file workers. This can drain the morale of members and make it harder to hold solid action when the union leadership's eventually feel that the time is right for it.

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Published on: Tue, 25/08/2015 - 20:43

We have been receiving messages from our respective unions telling us that this week's strikes are off, with an explanation that talks are making "progress". Perhaps we are supposed to just accept this without wanting to know more, but rank-and-file Tube workers do want to know more, and local reps are being pressed for answers that they do not have.

It is good to know that progress is being made, but surely this has happened because we had industrial action on, logically suggesting that keeping it on would lead to more progress.

We want to know the details: they are details about OUR jobs and working conditions, after all. Tube workers have shown huge commitment to the current disputes: to keep that commitment, we need to be kept informed. Simply telling us that strikes are on, then off, then on again, inevitably starts to drain morale.

Negotiating reps are now circulating some more details, which is welcome: it's a shame that the communications from head offices didn't do this.

It is noticeable that the list of items in the stations jobs dispute where progress has been made does not include any definite progress on job cuts and ticket office closures. The other issues are important, but without movement on the central issues, they will amount to smoothing the edges of a savage attack on the workforce.

The unions are rightly keen to insist that the disputes are not over, but if that is the case, then why call off the action? We can understand the desire to have strikes of all four unions on two weeks' time rather than three of the four this week, but why call off the overtime ban?! That wasn't an issue for ASLEF, and it was having a real bite on fleet and stations.

We need more answers.

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How To Keep The Pressure On

Published on: Sun, 23/08/2015 - 19:43

As the media carries sensationalised reports of talks between LU and the unions going down to the wire, there's been a lot talk around the job about whether next week's strikes will go ahead.

That intense negotiations between unions and an employer will continue for as long as possible is hardly "news". As of now, the strikes are on: we should be preparing for them and building picket lines.

But the discussion about whether the strikes will take place has touched on a lot of different topics - how decisions are made in our unions, how much we can hope to win in this dispute, and what are our most effective means of putting pressure on the company. It's right that members discuss these issues.

There will be little time for any meaningful consultation of members, or even reps, between any deal being offered on Monday (tomorrow) and the start of any planned action (on Tuesday evening). Therefore the unions' executives will have to assess the offer against the demands we've all been fighting for. Tubeworker's firm view is that, if any offer falls short of them, the strikes should stay on.

Suspending strikes to give negotiators more time to discuss an inadequate offer could only have a demobilising effect, give the company time to regroup, and hand momentum back to the bosses. Postponing the action to a later date will look a lot like "Grand Old Duke of York" tactics - marching people up to the top of the hill, marching them down again, and then trying to march them up another one! The prospect of looming strikes undoubtedly puts pressure on the company, but actual strikes put infinitely more.

Negotiations are essential to any dispute. If we were strong enough to launch "all-out, stay-out"-type strikes, where we simply refused to go back to work until our demands were met, the entire industrial (and political) landscape would be very different. We're clearly not at that point. We need elected union reps and officers, accountable to the membership, who can articulate our demands to the employer in negotiations.

But it is the strike itself, not the talks following it, that is our most powerful and effective weapon. Strikes are not, fundamentally, bargaining tools for union negotiators, the primary function of which is to "put pressure" on talks: they are direct acts of self-assertion by workers to win demands, to put pressure directly on the employer. Negotiators and negotiations should serve the interests, and articulate the demands, of the strike, not the other way around. The deal might be drawn up around a negotiating table, but the dispute will be won or lost on the picket lines.

We've clearly made some progress in talks, but solid action next week could force even bigger concessions. With many Aslef members committing not to cross RMT, TSSA, and Unite picket lines, the impact will still be enormous, even without official participation from the Associated Society. The extent to which the company has moved on some of the stations-side issues shows how much they're wobbling. While we might not quite be in "one more punch will floor them" territory, it seems obvious that, having budged them this far through our two strikes, we can budge them further with another one.

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A Two-Tier Workforce?

Published on: Thu, 20/08/2015 - 12:30

Unity between unions on London Underground has been strong recently, as workers unite against a common enemy - a boss determined to increase workloads and cut jobs and pay.

However, there is a risk of allowing changes to new starters' pay or terms and conditions in a misplaced belief that offering this sort of "flexibility" in negotiations gives protection or an improvement for current workers. A divided workforce is a threat to us all. It is a threat to unity when a union caters for only one grade, but a split in terms or pay within the same grade, a two-tier workforce, is detrimental too.

Unions representing station staff have rightly opposed the creation of a new "CSA2" grade, doing essentially equivalent work to CSA1s but for less money. On trains side, Aslef has unfortunately told its members it will negotiate possible protections for existing staff, implying that new drivers will have to put up with worse terms and conditions.

If the Tube bosses are allowed to put new Night Tube drivers on unbalanced night turns only, or gets away with employing new station staff doing the same role as existing workers but for nearly £10k less, what effect will that have for future solidarity? This attack on new workers is the wedge that can allow future attacks on existing employees. What happens in 10 years time when the workers on the old terms become the minority? And what does it say to new workers about solidarity? Would you be so keen to join a union or fight for others terms and pay, knowing that they allowed your terms to be reduced to protect or improve their own?

Of course on the Tube, many of these things have been thought hard by workers and so even though these battles may not be definitively won, there is still the history of acknowledging and fighting Tube bosses. However, if workers allow grades to be spilt, or a particular union's negotiators encourage it, the long term outcome can only be negative to all workers as it is detrimental to unity, the cornerstone of trade union strength.

Socialist trade unions recognise that influence must go beyond the workplace, as threats come from outside as well as within - such as new legislation, or changes in political conditions or public perception. With the acknowledgment of this threat from outside, don't let these attacks come into the workplace, by allowing new employees to have poorer terms and conditions than us.

Let's keep fighting for a good deal for all workers - current and future.

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Delays pile on pressure

Published on: Thu, 20/08/2015 - 09:03

Our action short of strike in the depots as part of the Night Tube/pay dispute has led to cancelled trains on the District, Circle, Hammersmith and City, and Central Lines, causing delays every day for weeks.

On Wednesday 12 August, LU only ran 70% of its scheduled trains through the morning peak. Last week, the entire Wimbledon branch of the District Line was knocked out throughout the peak due to lack of available trains.

Workers in some locations have stuck by the action short of strike despite being sent home from work without pay for upholding it.

The pressure is mounting daily on LU to back down.

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Next week's strikes are live: all grades, stand firm!

Published on: Wed, 19/08/2015 - 15:45

An RMT reps' meeting this morning resolved to keep the strikes planned for 25-26 and 27-28 August live. TSSA and Unite are also due to participate.

Senior reps reported that some progress had been made in negotiations, with the company finally budging, for example, on some of the issues surrounding terms and conditions on stations. It has agreed to continue discussions on rosters at company-wide level, meaning that the nightmare rosters station staff were "consulted" on in March can now effectively be thrown away. RMT is pushing for no new roster to have any increase in weekend working than any current one. LU has also agreed to retain the existing stations Framework Agreement as the basis for ongoing discussion rather than scrapping it and replacing it with a new one.

These concessions are positive, and undoubtedly the result of our solid strikes. So there's only one possible conclusion: more strikes can win more concessions!

Negotiations will continue between now and Tuesday, but even if LU presents a comprehensive dispute resolution document, we should keep our strikes on unless it clearly and explicitly fulfils our demands. We are in this fight to win, not to settle for a score draw or a 2-1 defeat!

The fates of the two disputes - the 2015 pay/Night Tube settlement and the "Every Job Matters" campaign catalysed in 2013 by the announcement of "Fit for the Future - Stations" - are now bound together. This has some significant downsides: it means that if we are knocked back on one issue, the other suffers too. Tubeworker has always argued that both disputes need to be fought on their own terms, and seen through to the finish. But with the disputes now linked in this way, we must ensure that neither is settled until we have an acceptable conclusion to both.

With Aslef not officially participating in the strikes, solid and effective pickets at trains depots are even more important. Tubeworker has already appealed to Aslef members not to cross the picket lines - see here; the appeal has already been shared 85 times on Facebook, please keep sharing it and spreading it far and wide!

The momentum is with us right now, let's keep it up. And if we really want to focus management's mind in negotiations over the next week and after the strikes... let's name more dates!

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