Tube strike: fight for rank-and-file control

Submitted by Matthew on 2 December, 2010 - 9:53 Author: Lori Smith

Tube workers braved wintry conditions to turn out on picket lines across the combine for a fourth time on 28/29 November.

The strike remained solid and affected services on every line, forcing some to close entirely at various points throughout the day.

One picket at Mile End station said: “It’s another successful day. We’re fighting for jobs and safety.

“I’ve been working nights this week and I’ve seen six trains taken out of service due to safety problems. That’s the sort of thing that will only get worse if these cuts are allowed to go through.

“This station has been opened up by two managers; they’re not properly trained. They don’t know anything about the equipment and they can’t be properly familiar with safety procedures. One manager has gone into work not wearing a proper uniform; that’s the sort of thing we’d get picked up on for, but it’s all right for them to do if they’re working to break a strike.

“The strike’s still solid, and it’s been solid all the way through. We’re going to carry on fighting, but we do need more than 24-hour strikes. They need to be longer — perhaps even a week at a time.”

The question of where to take the dispute from here was a constant on picket lines across the city. Almost everyone Solidarity spoke to was in favour of escalating the dispute, many wanting action sooner than the union seems prepared to call it. Quoted in countless newspapers on the day of the strike itself and since, Bob Crow (the general secretary of the RMT) has supported escalation — but also signalled strongly that there will be no further action before the new year.

Crow said, "We are moving towards an escalation of the action, [but] I don’t think it will be appropriate to have action over Christmas. I will not be recommending any action this side of 2 January, but come 2011 we will have to consider escalating strikes to more than one day." Trouble is, London Undeground’s date fr its job cuts is 18 February. Leaving action until Janurary is leaving it very late.

The situation highlights the democratic deficit in the running of the dispute; Strike committees exist (within the RMT), but the ultimate say on the direction of the strike resides with the national executives of the unions.

If the strike committees were given real power, then the rank-and-file pressure for escalation could be channelled into a forum where it could actually have an impact. Fighting for escalation, combined with a fight for rank-and-file control of the dispute, are key tasks for RMT and TSSA activists now.

"Fight on in difficult times"

A tube worker gives her views about the dispute

There is no such thing as enjoyment when participating in official industrial action. It just means that unfortunately neither the management nor the unions were able to reach an agreement and that communication levels have broken down.

Although I am 100% behind the union and this very worthy cause, there is still that uncertainty of how long is the strike going to continue for, what terms are likely to be agreed upon, etc. Members are losing money, that’s a fact, but we have to remember to see beyond that, and to look at the bigger picture.

I strongly believe that members need to remain supportive and continue to fight on during these difficult times. I also believe that there needs to be a stronger presence on picket lines, to show solidarity, and strength. All members and their representatives would ideally prefer to avoid strike action where possible, but unfortunately when all other action has been exhausted, there is no alternative but to take part in strike action.

The management want to run 100% service [during strike days] and I feel that at times managers are somewhat economical with the truth, claiming that a bigger percentage of the network is running when statistics have proven otherwise. The strike has had a strong impact on management overall. Several stations have been shut as a direct result of the strike, and the overtime ban has also proved highly effective.

The media are extremely biased against trade unions. Many people have been in support of the strike. That is never shown or reported through media coverage. Whenever members of the public do offer support in interviews, it is never shown or advertised. Negative publicity seems to always highlight trade unions.

Ordinary RMT and TSSA members do have a say in how the dispute is run. Regular meetings take place prior to the strike commencing, discussing possible action to take, including the duration of any strike and action short of a strike. Question and answer sessions take place ensuring that those who wish to give some sort of input are strongly encouraged to.

I would like to think that this dispute is seen as Underground staff simply trying to defend their jobs, and by doing so protecting the public from any safety implications caused by a reduction in staffing levels.

Until an agreement can be met from both parties, I believe that possibly increasing the industrial action from 24 hours to 48 hours would prove more effective. We should continue the overtime ban that is currently still in place. Ultimately both parties need to communicate with one another until they are able to negotiate a successful outcome. It’s about showing resistance, and eventually compromising.

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