Disputes

TubeLines Ballot For Allowances

Published on: Mon, 31/03/2008 - 09:14

It's two years since the last pay deal on TubeLines. That deal included a commitment to negotiate the payment of allowances to workers undertaking Protection Master and Site Person In Charge duties.

Two years of tedious waffle later, the company still reckons £600 quid will do, while RMT rightly insists on something more like £1,500.

The union is balloting TubeLines members for industrial action. Everyone should vote yes, and any resultant action should be organised to complement other action on the Underground as far as possible.

But the union should also learn a lesson about signing deals with employers that trust them to talk in good faith. Often, the employer will do no such thing. The fight will simply be postponed, and in the meantime it is the workers who go without.

Tubeworker topics

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All Change, Please!

Published on: Thu, 27/03/2008 - 11:31

Thoughts on our unions' industrial strategies - comments welcome.

So here we are again; a fresh dispute looms as a result of London Underground’s latest attempt to casualise its workforce and attack many of the hard-won terms and conditions of our members. With the strike ballot almost over, it is to be hoped that a huge vote for industrial action by members in all grades within LUL will cause the company to back away from its current proposals. But if we are forced to take strike action, what can we hope for? Frankly, the most likely outcome is some sort of fudge which merely delays the company’s plans whilst allowing both sides to claim ‘victory’. This is exactly what happened two years ago during the stations dispute over implementation of the 35-hour week. And many members lost two day’s pay for the privilege of securing this outcome. Is this good enough, or do we need to have a think about where we’re going as a union?

What’s Wrong?

So far as the current dispute goes, we are where we are and we will have to do our best to rally the members, should we be given a mandate to fight, and should the company’s intransigence make it necessary for us to do so. However, we also need to look ahead. The fact is that our employer (and, behind them, the GLA and the government) are never going to rest from their attempts to cut costs by undermining our conditions of service, whether this be by holding down pay, cutting staffing levels, watering down safety regulations, or outsourcing some jobs and deskilling others.

This isn’t the old days anymore; the people running LUL now are serious players who won’t give up at the first sign of a one-day strike. The big question we need to ask is this: Are we still able to defend and advance our conditions in this new climate? The honest answer is ‘no’. We need to have a big rethink about our tactics and strategy in our ongoing battle to secure and protect the best possible working conditions for our members. What follows is a few ideas which it is hoped will at least stimulate the much needed debate about the way forward.

Strike Fund

The one-day strike has proved to be an effective weapon for our union for a number of years, and is one of the reasons why LUL workers can boast some of the best pay and conditions in the transport industry. However, it is quite clear that this tactic has passed its sell-by date, with recent disputes ending with increasingly marginal returns for our members, the stations dispute of two years ago being a case in point. In the future we will need to deliver solid and sustainable action over a number of days, perhaps even weeks, in order to secure genuine gains from the company. We are simply not equipped to deliver such action at the moment because most of our members cannot afford to lose more than a day or two’s pay in any month. The solution is simple; we need to establish a strike fund (call it a war chest, if you like), from which strikers could be paid when taking strike action. Not full pay necessarily, but enough to keep striking members ticking over. Furthermore, strike pay could be made contingent upon taking part in picket duty – if you don’t do picket duty, you don’t get strike pay! This is exactly what the Canadian Union of Public Employees does. So too, with minor variations to the details, do many other unions. Isn’t it time we did the same?

One Out, All Out?

Again, bearing in mind the financial situation of the bulk of our members, we should be asking ourselves how we can hurt LUL at minimum cost to our members. Is it really necessary to call out every grade together? French rail unions hurt their employer by calling out ticket sellers and revenue collectors only. All other grades, including drivers, worked to provide a normal service to the French public who were rather pleased to be able to travel for free! Remember, too, that last year’s strike by our own members at Metronet completely shut down the nine lines maintained by that company despite that fact that all LUL stations and trains staff reported for work and received full pay. These two examples are quoted merely to illustrate the principle behind targeted action, not to say that they should necessarily be adopted. To develop the idea further, we could also look at the strategy of Coventry Unison in their recent dispute with Coventry City Council. Those members of the branch involved in lengthy strike action were sustained by a branch strike fund made up of regular donations from branch members not directly involved in the dispute.

Anti-Union Laws – Where do we Stand?

Against them, of course! Yes, but what does our ‘opposition’ amount to in practice? And why does it matter? Frankly, apart from sympathetic MPs moving Early Day Motions to reform these laws, motions which have about as much chance of success in Parliament as a retarded chimpanzee has of earning a degree in English literature, our opposition is nought. Despite some big talk, our union has never mobilized industrially against the anti-union laws. However, that’s not the problem. The problem is a lack of consistency on the matter which has the potential to undermine our projection of ourselves as an ‘all grades union’.

The author would personally like the union to challenge the anti-union laws when they stand in the way of action which has been democratically decided by our members. However, as such a challenge could lead to grave consequences for union officials and the union as a whole, the opposite view of remaining within the law is quite understandable. But, if we are not going to encourage, for example, members not directly involved in a dispute to take action in support of those who are, then we should be clear about it. Never again should we be in the position we were in two years ago when train drivers were given no leadership or advice from the union concerning how to respond to the dispute taking place on the stations. The small amount of support that was mustered from amongst drivers was purely the result of the actions of local reps and of individual drivers who were prepared to take a risk by acting on their conscience. A lot more should have been done by the union to encourage supportive action by drivers, including action short of actually striking. The failure to do this has helped to drive a wedge between stations and train staff, and this is the last thing we need.

Working with Other Unions

Local Trades Union Councils bring together trade union branches of all kinds within a local area. In London they are based on borough boundaries. Trades Councils do a lot of good work in their local areas and provide help and support for member branches involved in disputes. Our union should make it compulsory for all branches to affiliate to their local Trades Council, and encourage branches to send delegates to take part in the work of the Trades Council.

How will this make us stronger? Quite simply, being part of a Trades Council means a branch has contact with reps from a range of different unions who have access to thousands of local trades unionists. When we’re in dispute, we can immediately get our message across and gain support from workers outside of the rail industry. This can be a source of strength. Naturally, we should give support to trades unionists from other unions when they enter disputes with their employers. The fact is, trades unionists of all trades and professions, public and private, white collar and blue, are all in the same boat. Our problems may be superficially different but, in essence, they are the same – employers and government trying to get the most from us at the cheapest cost, while our unions push in the opposite direction to try and get what our work deserves. Surely it is too obvious to point out that if we all work together we will achieve much more than if we go it alone?

What Next?

The above-mentioned ideas are merely to stimulate debate within the union, a debate aimed at putting us in a stronger position than we are currently in, a debate we sorely need to have. Of course, there are other ideas out there as well, but these have been spared from this article for reasons of space.

If we are to successfully face the forthcoming challenges from the company and also ensure that the inevitable arrival of new technology benefits rather than enslaves our members, than we need to wake up before it’s too late.

Tubeworker topics

Comments

Submitted by Tubeworker on Fri, 28/03/2008 - 18:10

We need effective strike committees to coordinate action. The RMT was supposed to have elected one weeks ago, but I haven't heard many reports of it actually meeting. Apparently at the TSSA reps meeting yesterday, TSSA proposed a joint strike committee with the RMT, which is an encouraging sign. TSSA seemed very serious about taking action and were organising pickets and talking about picketing depots.

However, the strike committee should not just be for local action and information to members (which are important). There also needs to be a body of people ready to respond if the unions' leaderships try calling the strike off after the further talks next week.

With a painfully low turnout and the drivers wobbling, maybe RMT's leadership could find excuses to justify pulling back after it's taken us so long to get to this point. It would be crushing if organisational cock-ups that contributed to the low turn out were used to justify abandoning us, letting us take this defeat without putting up a fight.

Submitted by Tubeworker on Fri, 28/03/2008 - 18:16

With the strike only a week away, some people who have never struck before are asking "what will the RMT 'do to me' if I 'scab'"? There is an idea - a poisonous, groundless idea put about by management and their stooges - that the unions are bullies who achieve solidarity by threats to put bricks through people's windows, etc.

No-one advocates thuggish tactics. RMT and TSSA activists are convincing staff of the importance of this strike action by persuasion - and the obvious importance of the issues means that most people do not need much convincing!

We can be sensitive to people's financial hardship (especially in a climate of soaring living costs). But we will make no mistake about telling people what they are doing by 'scabbing' (working on a strike day). It is not the case that people can do their own thing and it won't affect the rest of us. By scabbing you are harming the effectiveness of our collective action. It makes it easier for management to keep the service running.

Striking is, after all, the only effective tool we have to make management listen to us. Every decent condition that workers on the underground can boast has been won by courageous action by workers before us. If you are hard-up, talk to your union rep and appeal to the union's hardship fund.

But don't think that you working will not have an impact on the rest of us and you might as well work anyway. We have to stand together!

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Looking Into It

Published on: Sun, 01/10/2006 - 18:53

Just to update readers on the situation on Canary Wharf group. You'll remember an RMT industrial action ballot over the bullying behaviour of local management, who had upset just about everyone, especially the bloke they sacked for being sick for a couple of months.

Well, faced with this rebellion amongst the staff, LUL reinstated the man they had sacked. The company has also brought in consultants to investigate the state of industrial relations on the group, with RMT presenting them with a list of 30+ complaints to be getting on with.

Management are certainly on the back foot for now, and staff are pleased with having achieved this much without having to sacrifice wages through striking, but let's not rest on our laurels. If we take our eye off the ball, then you-know-who could be up to his old tricks again before you know it.

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Trouble At The Wharf

Published on: Wed, 09/08/2006 - 12:15

Staff on the Canary Wharf group have had enough of the GSM's abuse of staff. The GSM's actions affect all grades, races and genders. Everyone thinks he is a bully, and enough is enough.

RMT members have asked the union to sanction a ballot both for strikes and for action short of strikes, and we should know by tomorrow what the National Executive plans to do.

And TSSA? If it doesn't organise action, its members should sign up to the RMT for the duration of this dispute at least.

Tubeworker topics

Comments

Submitted by Tubeworker on Tue, 15/08/2006 - 14:24

Press release here.

All hands are needed on deck to make sure every member of staff is a member of the union, that any problems with ballot papers are dealt with immediately, and that everyone is going to vote Yes. Activists also need to be making arrangements for the strike days, such as planning picket lines. Although the union has a nasty habit of calling strikes only to call them off, we can't work on the assumption that this will happen or we could leave ourselves vulnerable.

Tubeworker would also like to remind RMT that its recent AGM passed a policy instructing the Executive to consider producing leaflets for the public whenever it goes into dispute, so we hope to see one soon for this dispute. After all, not everyone who travels through a Canary Wharf group station is a besuited, fat-cat, dyed-in-the-wool Tory!

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Saturday Night's Not Alright

Published on: Sun, 06/08/2006 - 12:10

Management want to impose a vastly anti-social roster for fleet staff at Northfields, making them work on Saturday nights when they have not done before. Social life?! Humbug!

After months of negotiation, RMT and TubeLines reached a stalemate. So management bypassed the local rep and union head office and announced that they would impose the roster. Every member of staff has signed a petition opposing this, and workers are asking the union to call strike action.

So stand by for the ballot - which could be called by the Executive on the 10th - and vote Yes!

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Remote booking dispute ends

Published on: Tue, 25/04/2006 - 14:35

After running for years - literally - the dispute over remote booking on and off at Acton Town is over. So what is the deal? We quote verbatim ...

  • 20 volunteers will be sought to transfer from Acton Town to Earls Court with effect from 11 June 2006. These volunteers, provided that they are currently on a roster, will at the date of transfer, be guaranteed a similar link at Earls Court, for example night to night link.
  • If less than 20 staff volunteer to transfer, the junior staff based at Acton town will be transferred to Earls Court in line with the current Train Staff Framework Agreement, to make up any shortfall.
  • Any surplus rostered staff at Acton Town will be placed in the Acton Town pool in the normal way.
  • Staff who volunteer to transfer will receive a letter guaranteeing their rostered position at the point of transfer. Once they have indicated their acceptance in writing they will not be able to withdraw.
  • Acton Town District staff can and will be rostered to travel to and from Earls Court on the Piccadilly Line.
  • The decision to suspend remote booking on and off at Acton Town will not be used as a precedent for the abolition of remote booking on and off at other locations.

The unions agreed this after members accepted it at open meetings and at the union branch.

Tubeworker invites your views as to how good a deal it actually is, and whether we could have won more.

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Pull the pay fights together

Published on: Mon, 24/04/2006 - 11:05

Meanwhile, TubeLines have settled for a two-year deal with a 4% rise this year. Metronet seem to think that 4% should be OK for their workforce too, conveniently ignoring the fact that their pay is already lower than TubeLines, so we will need at least 5% to play catch-up.

And it's full steam ahead for strike action on ISS, after the company refused to budge on its scandalous 'offer' of inflation-only rises for the next four years. And that is for cleaners who are on terrible pay rates and have not had a rise at all for the last five years!

It is essential that the unions organise the maximum co-ordination between these pay fights. This particularly applies to RMT, the only union which is involved in all of them. But all unions owe solidarity to all Tube workers, whether they are in their own union or another. So let's see drivers and cleaners - and other grades - striking together.

And if that's not possible, let's get ready to back each other in other ways. If, say, you are a Station Supervisor, would you consider it safe to open a station without a cleaner on duty? Tubeworker wouldn't.

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Friday Night's Not Alright

Published on: Sat, 03/09/2005 - 15:35

As Ruislip depot, Balfour Beatty management want Tube Recon Gangs to sign away the Friday night agreement, and agree instead to flat-rate compulsory overtime every rostered Friday. And they think we are cheap enough to accept this for a one-off £150.

Don't sign the slip. Vote Yes in the RMT's ballot for action.

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