Tube Lines workers, who do maintenance on London Underground lines, are striking on 24-27 April.
Their demand for pensions equality has a more “offensive” character than other disputes on the Tube (or indeed in other industries or sectors).
Workers are striking to win a positive demand (pensions equality and parity of travel privileges for Tube Lines workers, to bring them in line with other Transport for London employees) rather than taking token action to express displeasure at some imminent or already-passed action of the bosses. And they are taking 72 hours of strike action, rather than the more common 24-hour protest strike. They will begin by downing tools and walking out mid-shift, not just by not booking on.
Without Tube Lines workers on the job, essential maintenance and repair work will go undone, and the Emergency Response Unit – which deals with, amongst other things, platform suicides – will be out of action. It will therefore be unsafe for other grades of workers to do their jobs, and Tube union RMT will support its members in stations and trains grades who refuse to work on safety grounds. This, along with the length of the strike, means that Tube Lines can maximise the pressure they apply to bosses.
The course of this dispute could set the tone for the other ongoing and upcoming fights across London’s underground network. Cleaners employed by contractors Initial and ISS are already in dispute over pay, conditions and Olympic payments.
London Underground Service Control staff are balloting for strike action over long-standing issues, including potential restructuring and job losses. Telent and MJ Quinns workers, who maintain the fire equipment on stations, have balloted for strike action over inadequate pay, bullying by management and being denied annual leave over the Olympics.
And Travel Information Centre workers are in dispute because TfL have ordered no annual leave during the Olympics.
Tube activists must fight for strategic coordination of these disputes; this may not necessarily mean bringing all workers out at once, but planning rolling and ongoing strike action to apply the maximum possible pressure over the longest possible period.
If the Tube Lines workers win, and if their relative industrial strength can be wielded in coordination with other Tube workers, it will be a massive boost.
In the coming months, all transport workers in London face a common struggle not to have their hard-won rights torn up as the capital’s bosses seek the maximum possible profit out of the Olympic Games.