Tories' anti-union laws scupper "London Bridge 3" ballot: fight must go on!

Published on: Wed, 14/06/2017 - 13:21

Today we received the disappointing news that the ballot for action to win reinstatement for Lee Cornell, and justice for Dave Sharp and Saeed Sioussi (the "London Bridge 3"), had failed to meet the 50% turnout threshold required by the Tories' Trade Union Act.

Despite returning a majority of 80% in favour of action, the 35% turnout is not enough for the union to call a legal strike, meaning cross-combine action in this dispute is impossible without a re-ballot that does hit the thresholds.

This is the Tories' anti-union laws - not just the 2017 Act but previous legislation - doing their job. They are not designed to promote democracy, but to shackle unions and prevent workers from fighting back. The thresholds demanded of unions (50% turnouts, and 40% of all those balloted voting yes in certain "essential services", including transport) are not applied to any other area of democratic life: many MPs and councillors have mandates far lower than 80% on a 35% turnout! The 2015-2017 Tory government was elected with the support of just 24% of the electorate. Previous legislation, which forces unions to conduct ballots postally, also has an effect. Voting on your own, at home, away from the discussion and solidarity of the workplace, is an atomising experience, and indeed is profoundly anti-democratic. Real democracy requires collective discussion, meetings, deliberation, debate, all conducted in person.

The fight to get Lee back to work must go on. His Employment Tribunal will go ahead, and should be supported by solidarity demonstrations. RMT still has a mandate for local action at London Bridge, and further strikes there should be called. The union can also picket in support of the ongoing action-short-of-strikes, which will maintain the profile of the dispute and be a thorn in the company's side.

This outcome is undoubtedly disheartening, most of all for Lee, Dave, and Saeed, and for the reps and activists who have worked so hard to try and leap the Tories' arbitrary hurdles. While we should learn from this disappointment and redouble our efforts in future to make sure we do hit the thresholds, we should not sink into recriminations and bitterness at colleagues who didn't return their ballots. The "blame" for this setback lies with the Tories who imposed the laws, and the employers who lobbied for them. The whole trade union movement, which met the imposition of the laws with only the most token levels of opposition, must start fighting back, calling demonstrations and rallies against the laws, and looking for ways to subvert and defy them.

Politically, getting involved in the Labour Party and campaigning for a Labour government - now a real possibility for when the Tory/DUP lash-up inevitably collapses - is a key priority. A Labour government will repeal the Trade Union Act, and should be pushed to go beyond that and legislate for genuine trade union freedom: restoring the right to workplace meetings, workplace ballots, and to take solidarity action.

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"This Simply Isn't True": A Reply to Brian Woodhead

Published on: Sat, 13/05/2017 - 00:41

Senior LU boss Brian Woodhead sent out an Employee Bulletin on Friday afternoon, which, despite its pathetic nod in the direction of appearing evenhanded (he "respects our choice" to vote for strike action, apparently!), was little more than a scurrilous piece of propaganda designed to peddle the management line in the London Bridge 3 case.

Let's break Brian's email down bit by bit...

Brian says: "The RMT is claiming that the employees involved in this case were intervening to stop a serious assault by a fare-dodger on other employees; that this was a violent attack and a pregnant colleague was punched during this incident."

This is false. RMT says that Kirsty Watts, a pregnant CSA, was pushed, not punched. This may seem like a subtle difference, but Brian is deliberately distorting matters to imply that the union is exaggerating or even fabricating events. In fact, the company itself - in recorded minutes from fact-findings and CDIs - acknowledges that Kirsty was pushed, and called for assistance.

Brian then says that he "invited the RMT General Secretary and [National] Executive Committee to view the extensive CCTV footage available in this case and other relevant material", going on to claim that the RMT NEC "didn't take up this offer". Brian is attempting to establish a narrative of union members being ordered into battle by generals who don't know, and don't want to know, the details of the case.

But this is simply a false picture. The RMT NEC has viewed the CCTV. Nothing they saw in it changed their assessment that the union is right to back Lee, Dave, and Saeed to the hilt.

Then comes a quite spectacularly disingenuous paragraph:

"I know some of you have asked why this CCTV footage hasn’t been made available more widely, so that everyone can view this and see what happened. We did consider this, but in light of the fact that the footage contains images of a number of employees and customers – including those not directly involved in this incident - we concluded that this wasn’t appropriate."

So, on the one hand, Brian wants to assure us how free he has been with the CCTV, inviting Mick Cash and the RMT NEC to view it, and claiming they haven't (even though they have). But on the other hand, Brian says that it's "not appropriate" to show the CCTV "more widely". A slight discrepancy.

But here's the real kicker, which many people reading Brian's email might not know and which Tubeworker encourages all our readers to spread far and wide: local management on the London Bridge Area have been showing the CCTV to members of staff... but only in the form of still frames. Many local staff have refused to view it; those that have say it doesn't change their opinion of the incident! Their solid strike on 7-8 May shows what they think of the issues.

So we have LU senior management claiming it's not "appropriate" to broadcast the CCTV, while local management displays what is effectively a director's cut of stills, which decontextualise the incident, to staff in the hope of dissuading them from striking.

Our employers are trying to play us for fools. LU is still maintaining its ridiculous line that the correct response would have been for Lee (who, let's remember, was being punched in the head) to step away and get out his iPad to file a "Workplace Anti-Social Behaviour" (WASB) report. Anyone who's ever worked on a gateline, or in any operational role where you come into contact with the public, can put themselves in Lee, Dave, and Saeed's (and, indeed, Kirsty's) shoes.

Brian goes on to "reassure" us that LU does "take a zero tolerance approach to violence against [staff]": patently this is untrue. Lee Cornell was punched twice in the head. He's been sacked. Zero-tolerance, Brian?

Brian's email ends by saying that LU's "internal disciplinary processes have been exhausted in this case and will not be re-opened, regardless of the outcome of the RMT’s ballot." Well, we've heard that before. We heard it in 2011, when LU sacked Eamonn Lynch. After a sustained campaign of union action, Eamonn (along with Arwyn Thomas) was reinstated. We've heard it in other reinstatement campaigns too. LU's "internal disciplinary processes" are only one channel to fight our case. Letting the company know how we feel about this injustice by withdrawing our labour is another.

Brian Woodhead claims RMT's take on the incident is false, but in reality it's his account which "simply isn't true".

Vote yes for strikes and action short when your ballot paper arrives, let's get Lee back on the job!

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London Bridge: Prepare to Strike! Rest of Network: Prepare to Vote Yes!

Published on: Thu, 04/05/2017 - 14:30

As station staff at London Bridge prepare to strike on 7-8 May to demand reinstatement for Lee Cornell and justice for Dave Sharp and Saeed Sioussi, RMT has announced it will ballot all stations and revenue grade members from 10 May for strikes in the same dispute.

It is vital that all members return their ballots. The Tories' new anti-union laws demand a minimum turnout of 50% and at least 40% of the entire electorate to vote yes (i.e., 80% of a 50% turnout) for strikes to be sanctioned. These laws have already tripped the union up at Waterloo; we need to work hard to ensure the threshold is met and a majority is returned.

If your ballot papers haven't arrived by 12 May, speak to your local rep.

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Beat the New Anti-Union Law!

Published on: Sat, 15/04/2017 - 19:31

RMT's ballot in defence of the London Bridge 3 is our first taste of organising industrial action since the Tories' new anti-union law - the Trade Union Act - came into effect in March. The law means voter turnout must be over 50%. In 'important public services', such as the Tube, there is an additional requirement that over 40% of the people balloted must have voted 'yes' in order for our ballot result to be 'legal'. So we need a 'yes' vote that is strong enough to meet - and beat - these new thresholds. Vote yes!

This law adds to the web of anti-union legislation that the Tories have pursued for decades. The Tories have used it to obstruct our ability to organise effective democratic industrial action, to weaken our class and strengthen the rule of the rich.

We should be able to organise industrial action in any way we want. A show of hands and a simple majority vote should be enough. It is outrageous that we must now consider thresholds higher than in any parliamentary election before we can exercise our power as workers. Our union leaders need to be prepared to support us to take action if a majority of us vote for it but the result doesn't meet the threshold. We cannot let the new laws stop us from taking the action necessary to defend our colleagues.

Immediately let's make sure all RMT stations members at Waterloo and London Bridge return the ballot paper and vote yes!

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Night Tube Drivers Win

Published on: Thu, 13/04/2017 - 08:54

Night Tube drivers have won their fight with management for a fair chance at moving into full-time jobs.

They had previously been locked in by a ridiculous rule that they had to stay put for 18 months, fifty per cent longer than the standard one year waiting time to move. As usual, management remained intransigent until strike action loomed, with NT drivers delivering a whopping vote in the ballot - at which point management suddenly saw the injustice in the 18-month bar and agreed to relax it.

The dispute resolution has put Night Tube drivers on a level par with full-time station staff applying to be full-time drivers. This is good news, as we did not want to go from one grade being unfairly disadvantaged to another being unfairly disadvantaged instead.

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Action on Fleet

Published on: Mon, 27/03/2017 - 16:17

Following their vote for industrial action (which we reported on here), RMT members on Fleet began a campaign of industrial action on 7 March, effectively a form of work-to-rule.

The action includes:

  • Not working any overtime or attend training courses outside of normal working hours
  • Not carrying out any higher grade duty work
  • Not changing any shifts or work locations to assist with maintenance
  • Trainers not carrying out training for anyone on a job that is not their substantive role
  • Coaches not to coach anyone on a job that is not their substantive role
  • Not working if there is not a valid and in date WRA, COSHH, and Manual Handling Assessment
  • Not working if there is no first aider on site
  • The form the action has taken shows just how much LU relies on our goodwill to keep things running most of the time. When they refuse to reciprocate, we should withdraw it.

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    Why Tube workers support the anti-DOO strikes

    Published on: Thu, 23/03/2017 - 18:42

    Many of us on London Underground have been inspired by the ongoing strikes on Southern, which have now spread to Northern and MerseyRail.

    Workers at those companies are striking against their bosses' attempts to impose "Driver Only Operation", downgrading the safety-critical role of the guard, allowing trains to run with only one safety-trained member of staff on board.

    We've had DOO on the Tube since the late 90s. However, a form of the guard's role was reintroduced by LU via the back door, with many busy stations having staffed platforms - an acknowledgement that a second safety-critical member of staff is often needed to monitor the PTI.

    A recent article in the Financial Times, analysed by our friends at the Off The Rails blog here, gives some insight into the rail bosses' and Tories' wider strategy. They see the imposition of DOO as part of the process of implementing the recommendations of the McNulty Report. This report, commissioned under New Labour and delivered by the Tories, identifies cuts to staffing levels as a key way to make savings in the railway industry. LU bosses have an eye on McNulty too: if mainline train companies get away with imposing DOO, there'll undoubtedly be renewed attempts to reduce our staffing levels.

    The strikes are particularly important as they buck the overall national trend of very low strike levels. Moreover, they are spreading. Workers at other train companies could also become involved. Workers on Southern, Northern, and MerseyRail will strike again on 8 April. Tubeworker encourages any readers in London and the south east to attend a Southern picket line to support our brothers and sisters.

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    Fleet workers vote for strikes

    Published on: Mon, 27/02/2017 - 11:40

    Back in January, we reported on an imminent ballot on Fleet, in a dispute over a range of issues, including job cuts.

    The ballot has now concluded, returning a 68% majority for strikes and an 89% majority for action-short-of-strikes.

    Hopefully RMT will crack on and get strike dates named, ideally coordinating them with other ongoing disputes across the job, including the Central Line drivers' fight against forced displacements.

    With Night Tube forming part of the background to this dispute (specifically, LU's failure to honour an agreement to staff up in order to cover additional work), the potential is emerging for a combine-wide dispute over Night Tube, involving drivers and station staff, who are rightly aggrieved at having opportunities to transfer into full-time positions blocked, and fleet staff. Why not ballot Interserve and ISS cleaners, and other contractors working nights, on their issues too, and make it an across-the-job dispute against the exploitation of Night Tube staff?

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    Defend the London Bridge 3!

    Published on: Mon, 27/02/2017 - 11:15

    Two members of London Bridge station staff have been disciplined, and a third summarily dismissed, after they, and another member of staff (who was pregnant), were assaulted by a fare evader.

    An RMT statement says: "The three members, Lee Cornell, Saeed Souissi and Dave Sharp have been subject to disciplinary sanctions including summary dismissal, suspended dismissal and a 52 week final warning [respectively] after having to deal with an abusive, violent, fare evading passenger at the station. London Underground showed complete disregard for its own Staff Assault Policy & Procedures and these members have been wrongly punished and treated deplorably by the Company."

    As one local activist put it, "LU disregarded the fact Lee and two other staff were physically and verbally assaulted by the customer Lee is accused of accosting. Lee was punched twice and had his glasses stolen by this person."

    Station staff on the London Bridge Area are being balloted for strikes to win Lee's reinstatement and justice for Saeed and Dave. If the company don't do the right thing, the ballot will have to spread.

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    Night Fight

    Published on: Tue, 21/02/2017 - 23:18

    RMT and Aslef have now declared disputes with LU over issues affecting Night Tube drivers: their exclusion from full-time jobs, and the unfair application of the overtime rate (full-time drivers get OT payments for any hours worked over 35/week, for example in the result of delays, suspensions, etc., but as Night Tube drivers, on 16-hour contracts, will never hit this threshold, they get no extra pay if their duties overrun).

    Unions are demanding that Night Tube drivers be given the right to take up full-time drivers' jobs Tubeworker welcomes the move into dispute over this clear discrimination.

    Now, RMT (the only union to organise on both trains and stations) must press for a clear and fair promotion path for ALL London Underground workers. Night Tube station staff are asking, “What about us?”

    Many Night Tube station workers, like their driver colleagues, took the job as a stepping stone to full-time work for the underground. Others, like numerous other station staff, hoped to become drivers. It must be made clear to London Underground that station staff must be prioritised to fill part-time driver vacancies created by Night Tube drivers moving into full time roles.

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