Pre-emptive scabbing by some guards at Lincoln and a capitulatory text from the Norwich guards rep on the company mobile effectively sabotaged the strike action called by RMT for May 1st against East Midlands Trains’ threat of compulsory redundancies.
The strike ballot result was not the best: a low turnout and short of a 2-to-1 majority. RMT held off announcing strike dates until TSSA’s strike ballot result, but that was a ‘no’ vote. RMT members had felt that after years striking for better pay and conditions while TSSA did nothing, at least this time when lots of TSSA members faced voluntary (possibly compulsory) redundancy, they could hope for solidarity from this quarter. TSSA’s result caused demoralisation and an increased readiness on the part of some RMT members to talk down the strike.
While encouraging debate, we have to guard against the dangers of becoming a disorganised rabble. Free debate has to be coupled with a strong commitment to unity in action: when we have decided on a course of action, we must stick to it and work to build it. The only way the strike decision should have been overturned, short of management agreeing to all demands, would have been via a members’ meeting that was as similarly representative as the original ballot or by holding another ballot.
The RMT Executive called off the strike when an offer to go to ACAS magically appeared, but the incidents at Lincoln and Norwich made their decision easier. No reps or activists at Nottingham or Derby, by far the largest depots, agreed that the strike should have been called off. In this writer’s opinion, it should not have been called off, but this was not a simple case of head office selling out considering the weakness of the result and TSSA’s ‘no’ vote.
The unfortunate thing is that a week after RMT called off its strike, TSSA (collective grades) voted in favour of action short of strike and train drivers did not come to work on the following two Sundays. Drivers are aggrieved by the company’s poor pay offer and are balloting for action which might take the form of 48-hour strikes on weekdays for 3 consecutive weeks whilst a series of Sunday BBQs continues.
If only we were all in the same union, we could co-ordinate this kind of thing so much better. Even more so if we could co-ordinate any action with SWT, so the scabbing managers would be hard-pressed to run even the skeleton service that they usually do when we take action.
Talking of scabbing managers, we understand the organiser of the ‘petition to break the strike’ at Lincoln, who voted ‘No’ to strikes, now has a job as management! Another petitioner may also have been promoted. Souter must be proud of you.
It seems that all that creeping around the mess rooms that EMT managers do pays off. When they come round and talk to people individually, it is easy for them to identify potential scabs and hence new managers. One surefire way to get a manager’s job is to show your ability to weaken the union.
That is not to say that we did not make mistakes. It is possible that RMT jumped the gun. By not waiting until EMT actually announced compulsory redundancies, we probably reduced the number who voted for strikes. Yes, most activists oppose voluntary redundancy - after all, we are not in the business of selling jobs, especially in the present economic climate - but most members do not see it like that, preferring to treat it as a matter of personal choice on the part of the individual concerned.
Outside London Underground, this is the closest RMT has come recently to all-grades action. Since the fragmentation of the network, we have been used to single-grade campaigns and this may have weakened the ‘industrial union’ idea. Certainly some people talked down this dispute by noting that compulsory redundancies did not affect their grade.
We need to remind each other that unlike Souter, none of us are millionaires, no-one can act like a law unto themselves. The only thing that stands between us and the job-slashing, terms-and-conditions-ctting, profit-before-everything Stagecoach is our collective strength. We will need to address this if we want to get big majorities for strike action against the next attack.