This article was written by Tubeworker supporters active in RMT, as a contribution to a discussion about how the union can sharpen and progress its “Every Job Matters” (EJM) campaign.
As we begin to feel the effects of LU's cuts, Tubeworker believes that all Tube unions need more ambitious strategies to fight them. This article was written by RMT members, and focuses on RMT because it is the only Tube union to have even attempted a real fight against these cuts. ASLEF says it opposes them, but has stood aside from action. TSSA joined the first strike against the cuts in February 2014, but has taken no action since, insisting that a negotiations-only approach would be more fruitful. RMT has been left to fight alone: activists in TSSA and ASLEF need to pursue similar discussions inside their own unions about why they have not done more.
As trade union members, we are often frustrated with how our unions respond, our fail to respond, to particular struggles we face at work or in society. But dissatisfaction or disappointment with what our unions have done, or not done, can never become a reason to give up on our unions (or trade unionism altogether). On the contrary, they point to a need to become more active in our unions to make them more effective.
This article was written in a spirit of debate and discussion. We believe unions only win when members are able to discuss, debate, and have a say in strategy. We invite other Tube workers, in any union, to contribute their thoughts about what strategies we need to win.
Every Job Matters: Still a Fight for Us All
In October 2013, RMT launched an all-grades fight against job cuts, “Every Job Matters”. The RMT Executive's decision noted: “correspondence from LUL states that it will soon begin 'sharing its ideas' for the future. This suggests that LUL will soon announce cuts to station staffing, including
RMT went on to register: ‘Together with attacks on maintenance frequencies and fleet jobs, planned job cuts in service control and refusal to rule out driverless trains, this constitutes a wholesale attack on London Underground jobs and services. It is no coincidence that it is being accompanied by an attendance and discipline clampdown, attacks on our pensions, and the widespread use of agencies instead of directly-employed staff. RMT will resist these attacks with all means at our disposal, up to and including industrial action.’
The Executive decision instructed the General Secretary to “advise London Underground Ltd that this union is in dispute with LUL on this matter”.
In other words: this wasn't just about ticket offices, or stations. This was always a fight for us all. The idea that Every Job Matters is a “stations dispute” that “doesn’t affect drivers or engineers” has crept into the thinking of some RMT members and activists. This idea takes root because LUL's workforce is split into grades and functions who often do not interact in the course of our working lives. How often does a ticket seller chat with a track worker? LUL encourages division. In the face of this, the RMT – the only all-grades union on LUL – needs to constantly remind us that we are one workforce fighting a common enemy: LUL.
The union must revive the decisive, assertive campaigning spirit that marked the start of the campaign in late 2013. That spirit stands in stark contrast to the recent period of quietness, indecision, and inaction. We need a workplace campaign from the union that reminds us that EJM is a fight for all LU grades and functions. EJM must be fought to its conclusion; issues such as pay should not be allowed to sideline the fight against job cuts. We also need a renewed political campaign, especially with the prospect of a new Labour or Labour-led government on 8 May.
While LUL may have stolen a march on the unions in recent months by closing ticket offices, allocating new job roles and revealing rotten rosters, the company will not fully implement “Fit for the Future - Stations” until early 2016. We still have time to save jobs. With a new government, we also have chance to change the overall political outlook for LU workers. Tubeworker wants RMT to act immediately after the general election to demand that any Labour government commits to a moratorium on cuts and closures and reverses the cuts in central government funding to Transport for London. We can save jobs not just on stations, but across the whole of LU.
Reviving the assertive spirit with which we began the campaign
EJM got off to an excellent start for three main reasons:
1. RMT was proactive. Rather than wait for cuts to be announced, RMT wrote to LUL, demanding assurances. In October 2013, when LUL did not oblige, RMT wrote to LUL to say it was in dispute and prepared to ballot its members. Tubeworker supporters were pleased: we had argued and worked so that RMT was ready to fight when cuts were announced.
2. RMT was quick and decisive. LUL announced “Fit for the Future” on 21 November 2013. On the same day, RMT wrote to LUL to say it was balloting members for strikes. Tubeworker noted at the time: “It's excellent that RMT immediately announced a ballot for industrial action. We lost […] many past fights because unions were slow off the starting blocks and management raced ahead” (click here for more). RMT's response needed to be quick and timely because LUL’s 90-day consultation on redundancies was counting down; LUL was to begin imposing its plans by February 2014.
3. RMT fostered a cross-union approach. RMT’s quick start spurred TSSA to ballot. RMT and TSSA then coordinated so that both unions could strike together in early February 2014.
RMT’s timely, decisive, cross-union approach was effective. By February, LUL hoped to be implementing its plans. But instead, LUL was forced to put implementation on hold after RMT and TSSA achieved “yes” votes in strike ballots, and struck for 48 hours in February, which received support over the airwaves and put Boris Johnson on the back foot. Just over two months of decisive campaigning derailed plans that LUL had been preparing for years.
We need to reintroduce this proactive, timely, decisive approach into the Every Job Matters dispute now!
Guarantees we won in 2014 over station staff pay and locations brought huge relief for a while. It had looked like staff whose grades were threatened would either have to reapply for their jobs, or face being downgraded with a huge pay cut. Our strikes forced the company to guarantee that no worker affected by the cuts would lose money. But LUL has used 2015 to ramp up its pace ahead of the General Election, closing ticket offices and implementing its politically-driven restructure. In response, RMT and other unions needed to ramp up their pace too.
RMT has done very little in the first four months of 2015. There has been no industrial action, nor a decision on when we might strike in future. RMT has missed a series of opportunities where timely, decisive action could have had positive impact:
cuts”; no action, no re-ballot, not even a vigorous workplace campaign to gear us towards action.
Such delays dilute our democratic right to decide what action we want to take at the time at which we want to take it.
How to build unity across grades
Although EJM is about defending us all, Tubeworker understands that, to some, it may not feel that way in trains and engineering depots.
How do we overcome this to build genuine all-grades unity? The RMT needs to ramp up its campaign in workplaces to highlight that this dispute is for every grade. It is about our jobs and our futures, whatever our role and wherever we work in LU.
Tubeworker knows that many drivers' and engineers' reps and activists have been working hard to win these arguments; the union needs to support them by arming them with materials, flooding depots with propaganda, and organising workplace visits and meetings. Militant trade unionism and effective leadership doesn't mean recklessly advocating strikes even if members are unconvinced and unwilling to support them, but it does mean showing ambition and initiative, and campaigning in systematic way to persuade members who may be under-confident or cautious about taking action, not simply mirroring that caution back to them.
How not to build all-grades unity: the dangers of a “shopping list” dispute
Some activists in RMT are advocating a new dispute that combines pay, Night Tube and job cuts. Their thinking is that, because pay and Night Tube are presumed to be of more concern to drivers and engineers than the fight against job cuts on stations, it will be easier to mobilise all grades if the issues are bundled together.
But unions can’t build disputes like a shopping list, with different demands to appeal to different groups of workers. We can't use pay and Night Tube as a pretext to get unconvinced drivers and engineers to strike over job cuts.
Our history shows us the danger of “shopping list” disputes. RMT’s 2007-08 anti-casualisation dispute was built around a list of nine demands, which included a demand around the issue of agency staff; a demand around ticket office closures; and a demand around changes the company proposed to make for the procedure for refusing to work on safety grounds (perceived as a demand that would appeal to drivers). The strikes were called off when LUL agreed to withdraw the refusal to work proposals, and deferred ticket office closures. But other issues, such as agency staff, were not resolved, which returned to haunt RMT when it fought the “Justice for the 33” dispute in 2012/13.
At the time, Tubeworker said that the outcome demonstrated that unity is fragile when built around a “shopping list”. We observed that the dispute foundered because, “each grade was brought
in on its ‘own’ issues, rather than convinced of the common issues”, which meant each grade was “prone to drop their support once ‘their’ issue was sorted”. (Click here for more.)
So, if RMT pursues the tactic of combining pay, Night Tube and job cuts, it needs to consider what it would do if pay and Night Tube get “sorted” and a significant number of members “drop their support”. Is RMT prepared to see the jobs fight through to the finish? If so, RMT needs to convince all grades to fight job cuts as an all-grades issue; we can't rely on pay and Night Tube as a short-cut to building all grades unity.
Let's See The Jobs Fight Though To The Finish!
RMT geared up to the Every Job Matters campaign for years. In November 2011, RMT got hold of a leaked document that detailed the reality we are fighting today – no ticket offices, re-grading, huge-scale cuts. RMT resolved to put all its effort into this battle, even accepting a four-year pay offer on the basis that the impending jobs fight was more important than pay. This gives us all the more reason to see our current jobs battle through to its conclusion!
Tubeworker knows no one is openly calling for RMT to drop the jobs fight. But some are eager for RMT to fuse the jobs fight into a new dispute over pay and Night Tube. There is a danger that the jobs fight could get quietly dropped or squeezed off the agenda, while RMT focuses on other issues that might seem easier to win, or build unity around.
We have clearly reached a point in the Every Job Matters dispute where RMT needs to rebuild conviction and momentum to see the fight through. A new dispute won't do this work automatically and it should not be viewed as an opportunity to divert attention onto new issues. If RMT pursues a new dispute, it needs to use it to reaffirm the reasons RMT launched its Every Job Matters dispute in the first place. If RMT starts to focus on pay but goes silent on jobs, then members will rightly see this as a betrayal and a dodge out of a tricky fight.
There is a long and ignoble history in the trade union movement of not seeing fights through to their conclusion. Instead, union leaderships move on to new battles and quietly drop the old ones, without ever actually declaring that they have lost or given up. This style of trade unionism promotes a kind of “mañana militancy”: full of fight about the next battle, but with little to offer in terms of strategy for fighting today's fight.
We must make sure that Every Job Matters is fought vigorously through to its conclusion; that its demands don't get sidelined by a new dispute; that it does not become an example of mañana militancy.
“Why is RMT campaigning outside ticket offices that are about to close, or that have closed already?"
To many members, the lack of public campaigning over ticket office closures and staff cuts has seemed bizarre. It looked to some as if the union only started campaigning once ticket offices were about to close.
RMT has not done nearly enough. The campaigning that has taken place has largely been the work of a few local branches and volunteers.
Tubeworker supporters have worked hard to get an RMT public campaign off the ground. We were instrumental in setting up the Hands off London Transport (HOLT) campaign because we knew that Londoners, not just LUL staff, needed to mobilise over this political attack on public services.
That approach was not uncontroversial within the union. At the HOLT launch in January 2014, some were dismissive of the idea of wider community campaigning, arguing that RMT would fight for Tube workers by striking; if disabled activists, pensioners, students, and the other community campaigners Tubeworker supporters hoped to involve in HOLT wanted to back RMT strikes, they could, but there was no need for a specific public political campaign.
Tubeworker agrees that our fundamental power as workers is to take industrial direct action, and that our unions should fundamentally be instruments for organising that. But we shouldn't forget that we are public transport workers, providing a much-needed service to working-class people. Public-facing political and community campaigns on our industrial issues, that highlight the effect cuts will have on the service we provide to passengers, can help supplement industrial action and broaden our impact. This has been done elsewhere in the country, with RMT branches and regions have run vibrant, public-facing political campaigns on our industrial issues, such as the “Keep the Guard on the Train” campaign on Northern Rail.
The union should also have made, and could still make, greater use of the Labour group on the Greater London Assembly, which opposed the job cuts and ticket office closures, and whose transport spokesperson Val Shawcross was an outspoken critic of them from day one. The hostility felt by many within RMT towards the Labour Party shouldn't be allowed to restrict the union's political influence.
The Hands Off London Transport campaign has done as much as it could with the number of allies and volunteers it could mobilise. It held a series of demonstrations outside stations, and a day of action. RMT called a day of action in March 2015, which many branches and activists worked hard to make a success, but RMT - a national union with a Parliamentary Group, links to GLA members, a press and political department, and substantial resources – could have given the political campaign a much higher profile.
RMT's own members are a huge resource when it come to building public support. As staff, we know the impact that driverless trains or station staff cuts will have. The RMT's public campaign, or lack of one, has highlighted that there needs to be more democratic connection between RMT members and RMT Head Office's political, press, and public campaigning. As staff, we cannot speak out publicly for fear of losing our jobs. But we have plenty to say. We needs RMT to act as our mouthpiece and our megaphone.
Just as Tubeworker calls for us to have more democratic control of industrial action, it's clear we also need more democratic input into our unions’ political campaigning.
An urgent task should be to pile pressure on the new government that forms after 7 May. RMT needs to call action immediately, demand that any Labour government commits to a moratorium on cuts and closures and reverses the cuts in central government funding to Transport for London. We cannot waste this chance to save jobs on LUL.
Give us your views
Tubeworker, through our bulletin and our blog, aims to be a forum where London Underground workers can discuss the struggles we face at work, and the strategies we need to beat our bosses.
We invite all fellow workers to give their views on this discussion.