Tube workers in three disputes

Submitted by martin on 3 December, 2003 - 10:48

London Underground workers are due to take industrial action on 9-10 December over safety on the Tube and privatisation of its infrastructure.
The biggest Tube union, the RMT, is demanding 24-hourly inspection of all Tube track; immediate introduction of speed restrictions wherever track defects are discovered; and all track, signalling and rolling-stock maintenance work to be carried out by qualified London Underground employees.
On 9-10 December it is calling on drivers to drive at 10mph on all dubious track section, and station staff to close stations whenever they become overcrowded because of the slower trains.
A Tube worker told Solidarity: "The union's changing the date of the action from 8-9 December to 9-10 December, to avoid clashing with the celebrations for the rugby World Cup, is a good idea.
"Obviously, you are always going to be unpopular with some people by taking industrial action at all, but deliberately - or recklessly - courting unpopularity is just stupid. Industrial action should, where possible, be timed to disrupt the bosses, not people's leisure activities.
"The bigger issue is why the union has called a 48-hour action when all the reps wanted indefinite action. If we are taking this action on the basis of the track being too dangerous to drive at normal speed for two days, do we really think it has suddenly become safe again the next day?
"Also, it is not really industrial action at all. Following the safety rules to the letter is just doing our job properly.
"We voted for industrial action - 55% for a strike, and 81% for action short of a strike.
"The RMT should be calling genuine industrial action: an overtime ban, or a refusal to collect fares".
Another ballot for industrial action on the Tube is likely soon, following the sacking of five maintenance workers by infrastructure contractor Metronet.
They were sacked on 2 December after management found beer cans in their mess room at Farringdon. No proof has been found that any of those workers were drinking, or that the cans were theirs: at least sixty people could have been coming and going in that room.
RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: "Unless these workers are reinstated within seven days I will be recommending a ballot of our Metronet members for industrial action".
The dispute also remains live over the sacking of Edgware Road driver Chris Barrett for allegedly playing squash while off sick with an ankle injury. Fellow-drivers at his depot and at Barking have already voted for action and staged a solid one-day strike against the sacking.

NATIONAL NEWS: Mayor intervenes to avert go-slow By Roger Blitz, UK Affairs Editor
Financial Times; Nov 28, 2003

Ken Livingstone intervened yesterday in the dispute over Tube safety amid signs of a possible face-saving deal to prevent industrial action.
Although the RMT transport union announced a 48-hour go-slow by drivers, beginning on December 8, talks will take place next week between union leaders and London Underground managers to seek to resolve disagreements over safety standards.
The London mayor turned up at RMT headquarters to meet Bob Crow, the union's general-secretary, just as the RMT was preparing to announce what form its action would take.
Mr Crow said they discussed Tube matters in general and that Mr Livingstone was keen to resolve the dispute. He said LU managers and the RMT would discuss how track inspection was carried out, but the law required the union to give notice of its planned go-slow.
RMT drivers will drive trains at 10mph over sections of the track they have identified as hazardous and staff will close stations where there are fears of overcrowding. The go-slow coincides with the victory parade for England's rugby players in central London, which Mr Crow described as "an unfortunate casualty of the dispute".
Union concerns were raised after two derailments in one weekend last month, at Hammersmith and Camden Town. LU is about to publish the final report on the Hammersmith derailment and an interim report on the Camden Town incident, the findings of which will determine what revised safety measures LU will ask contractors to implement.
LU said it was reviewing maintenance standards and refining the system of fault reporting, but added that a go-slow would not make the Tube safer.
A strike by train drivers on the Gatwick Express will go ahead today after talks aimed at resolving a pay dispute broke down. Members of Aslef, the train drivers' union, will walk out for 24 hours with further stoppages planned next month, including on Christmas eve and New Year's eve.

NATIONAL NEWS: Tube threatened by drinking den row By Roger Blitz
Financial Times; Dec 03, 2003

Relations between Tube managers and unions worsened yesterday when five track maintenance workers were sacked over the discovery of 111 full beer and cider cans in a staff mess,Roger Blitz writes.
Within hours of a plea from Ken Livingstone, London mayor, to abandon next week's planned go-slow by drivers on the Tube, the Rail, Maritime and Transport union was threatening more industrial action over the sackings by Metronet, one of the maintenance consortia.
Metronet, which does not tolerate alcohol at work, said it had suspended 15 staff in October after the cans and an empty brandy bottle were found in the staff room near Farringdon station.
Disciplinary hearings have so far led to five sackings, with hearings remaining on two employees. Vowing to fight the sackings "all the way", Bob Crow, RMT general secretary, said Metronet had failed to link any staff to illicit drinking on Underground property.
Any worker suspected of drinking should have been suspended and drug-tested immediately. "Not one of them was tested immediately, several were allowed to return to work, and one of those sacked today was never tested at all," Mr Crow said.
"Even worse, the company has admitted that it took no action for two weeks after suspicions were first raised. The cabin where evidence of drinking was allegedly found is freely accessed by at least 60 people, including contractors, yet no-one else was investigated or tested.
"Our members are being used as scapegoats for management's own complete incompetence in investigating serious allegations."
If the workers were not reinstated in seven days, he would ballot Metronet staff for industrial action.

An Anti-Capitalist Manifesto by Alex Callinicos, Polity Press

If the conclusions of this book were to be accepted, and its programme widely adopted, it would put the socialist project back to the time before Marx. This book is a revival of utopian socialism.

Callinicos asks three questions of the anti-capitalist movement: who is the enemy, what strategies are needed to beat this enemy, and what should the goal of the movement be? His answers are: the enemy is capitalism; the goal is socialism, and the strategy is revolution, brought about by fighting for a "transitional programme" of reforms.

Yes, capitalism is the problem and socialism is the solution. But Callinicos completely misconceives the how of getting from today?s conditions to a socialist society. Like the early utopian socialists, he fails to bridge the yawning gulf between the critique of the present and the vision of the future.

Callinicos claims to have "sporadically drawn" on the form of the Communist Manifesto in writing this book. In the Manifesto, Marx charts the development of capitalist society and the tremendous revolutionary transformation that it wrought, creating the material foundations for a socialist society and working class that can carry out the socialist project. By contrast, Callinicos is so keen to avoid association with neo-liberal ideas that he cannot bring himself to describe the side of globalisation that has further prepared the prerequisites for socialism. The growth of large working classes and militant labour movements across the globe barely get a mention. Capitalist society is presented as nothing but wrongs ? crisis, environmental damage and the role of imperialist states. Socialism is presented as simply a Good Idea springing from his head.

In the Manifesto, Marx emphasises that socialists base their programme and activities on the actually existing struggles of the working class, and on this basis elaborated a critique of other socialists. Callinicos has little to say here. He is more concerned to establish the relationship between socialists and the anti-capitalist movement. He describes different tendencies among anti-capitalists (reactionary, bourgeois, localist, reformist, autonomist and socialist). But Callinicos thinks the key distinction is between the reformists and the revolutionaries, whereas for Marxists it is their relationship to the working class that is paramount.

You could read this book and believe that the anti-capitalist movement has taken the place of the working class as the revolutionary agent of socialism, though Callinicos would no doubt deny it. But he does appear to think the movement can play the role of a workers? international, like those founded by Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky, in creating a party capable of leading a socialist revolution.

Marxists seek to orientate anti-capitalist activists towards the existing labour movement, to help transform it ? but nowhere does Callinicos argue for this. In fact he does not even explain why anti-capitalism has emerged in this period: it as a product of the defeats of organised labour.

Callinicos?s attempts to craft a programme for the anti-capitalist movement, he says, follow the conception of transitional demands, originally developed by the early Communist International and by Trotsky in the 1930s ? demands which did connect existing workers? struggles with the fight for socialism. But Callinicos?s programme bears little resemblance to this idea.

He says transitional demands "represent responses to contemporary reality, and have all been raised by existing movements". The tendency of these demands is to "undermine the logic of capital".

But Callinicos fails to address two central questions: who are demands made on, and who are they meant to mobilise? The whole point of the "transitional programme" was to mobilise the working class. Transitional demands start from the reality of working class life and working class consciousness. Callinicos?s programme is merely a selection of demands made by NGOs ? a programme sucked out of his thumb.

Some of Callinicos?s demands are made on existing bourgeois states, but others seem to be demands on international agencies, or even corporations. For example he calls for the cancellation of Third World debt ? but seems to be talking about only the poorest countries, ostracised from the world market. Hardly contentious. He says nothing about more developed indebted countries like Brazil or Argentina, where the argument about debt is more complex. And Callinicos advocates the Tobin tax on international currency transactions, without specifying who would introduce such a tax, or who would enforce it.

A programme which was focused on mobilising working class forces would include such things as fighting anti-union laws, would address the question of working class political representation in bourgeois elections and parliaments.

Transitional demands are associated with the idea of a united front ? in this case of the anti-capitalists and the labour movement ? and fighting for a workers? government. But Callinicos is not interested in this. He does not try to direct the young activists on the streets towards the labour movement. Unionising workers in Starbucks is far harder than putting a brick through their windows, but you won?t find the SWP or Globalise Resistance organising a union drive.

The programme Callinicos advocates is at odds with the method of Marx. In 1938 Trotsky?s document for the founding of an international ? known as the "Transitional Programme" ? spoke of facing reality squarely, not seeking the line of least resistance, calling things by their right names, and basing one?s programme on the logic of the class struggle. For Trotsky this is what separated Marx from the utopians. Callinicos does none of these things and so his book is simply an exercise in wishful thinking.

Score: 5/10
Reviewer: Paul Hampton

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