Workers at CBS, the company who have the contracts for putting up advertising posters on the Tube, have gone on strike over pay and a list of injustices that have mounted over the years. There were around 40 people on the picket line at their depot at Blackhorse Road last night, and 20 yesterday morning. Nobody crossed. This 100% solid 4 day strike (from Thursday til Monday) is a product of the bitterness that has built up against their management and inspirational rank-and-file workplace organising by the reps there.
The key issue is pay. When talks started last year, the bosses were talking about 2.5%. Negotiations have built that up to a current 4.2% offer (without other benefits) or a 4% offer (if the workers go without the other 'benefits' they are asking for). This is inspiring because these workers have not bought into the lie that in the increasing economic downturn, the bosses can't 'afford' to keep pay in line with inflation, and the still worse guilt-trip that it's up to us to make sacrifices to bale capitalism out. CBS in this country is part of CBS O America, which is jokingly referred to as the 'Bank of America'. Their multinational employer can well afford a pay increase. It's great to see workers taking a stand against silently suffering the worst effects of economic conditions that we do not create.
For years CBS workers have been asking for more than the meagre 20 days paid sick leave they currently have, especially when absence due to injury on the job is taken out of their sick allowance. They have also been asking for payment when retiring on ill health grounds. After closing their ears to these demands until the strike was muted, the bosses have suddenly started using the workers' other demands as a bargaining chip in the dispute over pay. It's an insult. The fact that they are prepared to offer 4.0% plus benefits or 4.2% without benefits shows that they could afford both. The workers have seen right through these attempts to manipulate them.
CBS has had RMT members for years, but when a few new workers with a fresh outlook joined the company around three years ago, things started to get shaken up. The started by building up membership and building confidence in the union by 'doing naughty things within the rules'. They educated people to stand up for themselves, saying that as they sell their labour to CBS, they should see that contract as something to negotiate around and assert themselves within. It should not just be for workers to humbly accept crap treatment just because the boss pays the wages. The attitude of the reps has been to keep members informed at every step through the pay claim, reaffirming, 'The union is not me. You are the union. The final decision is yours'. They balloted to go on strike. Two mass workplace meetings - one per shift - voted unanimously at the beginning of the week to go ahead with the planned action.
This dispute should be a model for the rest of the RMT on the tube in how to organise, how to relate the union to its members and how to get workers behind a fight.