Tube unions & politics

French lessons

Published on: Sat, 22/02/2020 - 18:44

Our monthly Tubeworker editorial meeting on 20 February heard a report from a comrade who’d recently visited France during the mass strike wave, as part of a delegation organised by Workers’ Liberty.

Workers in France have been striking against proposed pension reforms. We heard how strikes are organised via democratic assemblies in workplaces, which take decisions about whether to continue striking. We also discussed the effect of laws which require “minimum service levels” in industries like healthcare, and laws in other industries like transport aimed at reducing the ineffectiveness of strikes. Because French workers have a more militant culture, these laws are not as restrictive or effective as bosses would like them to be. This is a lesson for us, as the Tories attempt to impose similar laws here. Vigorous resistance can force the government to back down, or render the laws inoperable.

We also discussed some limitations of the movement in France, including its lack of a clear political alternative to the Macron government beyond the demand for the pension reforms to be scrapped. Mass strikes around industrial demands can be immensely powerful, but if the workers’ movement doesn’t pose an alternative programme for how society should be organised, we’re ultimately leaving the rule of profit unchallenged at the political level.

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Sadiq Khan's election leaflet for commuters

Khan Boasts of Strike Fall

Published on: Thu, 02/01/2020 - 20:35

Sadiq Khan has started the New Year with a leaflet (pictured) asking people to re-elect him because he has kept the cost of commuting down. Fair enough, and here at Tubeworker, we would much rather see Khan reelected than the Tory candidate who plans to nick our Nominee Passes.

But what is that final bullet point? A boast about cutting Tube strike days?! That's not the sort of thing we want to see a Labour Mayor boasting about. Morevoer, the fact is that the fall in strike days is largely a result of the 2016 Trade Union Act (which stopped LUL staff striking over the London Bridge 3 and cleaners striking over working condtiions) - not of anything the Mayor has done.

He's going to have to do better than this to win transport workers' support.

Tubeworker topics
Trade Unions

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Fight to abolish the anti-union laws

Published on: Sat, 23/11/2019 - 16:28

Despite voting by a 98% majority for strikes, ABM cleaners will be prevented from taking legal industrial action by the Tories’ anti-union laws. Of 620 cleaners balloted, 294 voted for strikes. But because this only amounted to 48% of the total, the result fell short of the 50% turnout threshold required by the 2016 Trade Union Act.

A 98% majority on a 48% turnout would be seen as a legitimate, and indeed overwhelming, mandate in any other area of democratic. It is a far higher majority and turnout, for example, than the one which elected Sadiq Khan as Mayor of London in 2016. The Tories claimed their laws were necessary to ensure strikes had a sufficient level of support in the workplace, but if just 11 more cleaners had voted against the strike, RMT would be able to call action, despite the fact that this would have demonstrated a higher level of opposition rather than support.

There are lessons for the union to learn here. Although a vibrant and energetic campaign to mobilise turnout did take place, most of the work was undertaken by a core of activists. Resources were provided, but next time we must ensure that every branch officer, rep, and activist across the union makes the ballot a priority. We need to build a culture where reps for directly-employed staff such as station staff, drivers, fleet maintenance workers, and others, see organising and empowering cleaners in their workplaces as as much of a responsibility as recruiting and organising their own LU workmates.

Ultimately, however, while the result is bitterly disappointing, our anger and frustration should not be directed inwards, but towards the glaring injustice and affront to democracy that the anti-union laws represent. The cleaners’ ballot result follows swiftly on from the High Court decision to injunct (i.e., ban) a strike of Royal Mail workers, after bosses claimed their union, the CWU, had “interfered” with the ballot process (which sailed past the thresholds of the anti-union laws) by... actively campaigning and encouraging its members to vote yes! This shows that, even when unions meet the thresholds required by the 2016 Act, older laws imposed by Thatcher and Major, and never repealed by Blair or Brown in 13 years of Labour government, can still be used to obstruct workers’ action.

This is the very purpose of the laws: to weight the scales of power in the workplace as greatly as possible in favour of employers. Our bosses don’t have to ballot anyone to force through their cuts; they don’t have to clear any thresholds to sack our members. Invariably they act, or try to act, unilaterally. But when we want to fight back, endless hurdles are put in our way.

We have to combine efforts to meet ballot thresholds with a renewed campaign for the abolition of these unjust laws. We have a chance to take a huge step towards that on 12 December, by electing a Labour government committed to repealing anti-union laws. But we will need to fight to hold that government to account, and to push it to implement Labour conference policy, for the abolition of all anti-union laws, in full. The Free Our Unions campaign, supported by three national trade unions (RMT, IWGB, and FBU) and dozens of union branches and regions, including RMT London Transport Region, provides resources and a vital network to help us do this.

At some point, we will also need to collectively confront the possibility that the only way to overthrow such unjust laws may be to break them.

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Vote Labour, and demand Labour restores the TfL subsidy!

Published on: Fri, 01/11/2019 - 19:47

On 12 December, we’ll have the chance to kick the Tories out of government. Tubeworker encourages all readers to vote Labour in every constituency.

Labour is the only alternative party of government. It has its most left-wing policy platform for decades, and a left-wing membership prepared to push the leaders further to the left.

For LU workers, the election is an opportunity to elect a government that could radically transform public transport funding. All the unions that organise across all TfL companies should issue a joint statement demanding that Labour makes a manifesto commitment to restoring and increasing the TfL subsidy, slashed to zero under the Tories, and ends outsourcing across TfL by employing outsourced workers such as cleaners directly.

Three of the four unions organising on LU - Aslef, TSSA, and Unite - are affiliated to Labour, and must use that direct link to make these demands. Although RMT is not affiliated, it is linked to Labour via its Parliamentary Group, comprised solely of Labour MPs. TfL unions should organise together to make demands on Labour, and to organise their membership to campaign for Labour in the election.

A socialist Labour government could take banking and finance into public ownership, socialising the immense wealth currently concentrated there and using it for socially and environmentally necessary projects such as a massive programme of council house construction and a huge expansion of renewable energy and public transport.

Some of the activists who publish Tubeworker also want Labour to be bolder and more radical on the issue of Brexit, committing more clearly to a “Remain” policy, and will be campaigning alongside Labour for a Socialist Europe during the election.

Tubeworker also wants Labour to commit, in its manifesto, to implementing in government the radical policies passed at its recent conference, including an expansion of free movement and migrants’ rights, and the repeal of all anti-trade union laws, not just the most recent. The “Labour Campaigns Together” initiative brings together a number of radical campaigns within the Labour Party which are fighting for a radical manifesto.

  • For more, see Labour for a Socialist Europe and Labour Campaigns Together
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    Will Labour implement its 32-hour week policy on TfL?

    Published on: Thu, 26/09/2019 - 11:42

    The recent Labour Party conference in Brighton ratified policy in favour of a four-day, 32-hour week. Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell promised that the average working week would be cut to 32 hours within a decade under a Labour government.

    In London, we already have a (local) Labour government: Labour controls the mayoralty, and the Greater London Assembly, which administers TfL and its subsidiaries.

    All four Tube unions demanded a four-day, 32-hour week as part of our pay claims. Our bosses are currently intransigent, committing only to a 30-minute reduction in the working week, at zero cost. Now Labour’s policy has shifted, we should demand it is implemented on TfL.

    To press that demand, our unions must ballot for industrial action now. Two RMT branches, Bakerloo and Piccadilly and District West, have passed policies demanding an immediate ballot. Further delays only benefit the bosses.

    When we strike, we should call on the Labour Party, which supports our demand, to unambiguously support the action we take to win it.

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    Tube workers against the coup!

    Published on: Wed, 04/09/2019 - 13:56

    As chaos in Parliament mounts, workers must take to the streets to protest against Boris Johnson's undemocratic manoeuvring and plans for a no-deal Brexit.

    As transport workers in London, we have bitter experience of having Boris as a boss, experiencing his blatant lies about ticket office closures and the vicious cuts regime TfL and LU bosses pursued under his mayoralty.

    Now he's attempting to shut down Parliament in order to force through a policy for which there's no mandate and which will damage working-class living standards. Our migrant worker colleagues are particularly in the firing line, and we have a responsibility to stand up for their rights.

    Tubeworker supporters will be demonstrating for migrants' rights at the Home Office tonight (Wednesday 4 September), and participating in ongoing "Stop The Coup" protests (more details here. Come along, bring your mates from work, bring your union banners!

    We’re pleased to see that the RMT London Transport Regional Council passed a resolution opposing Johnson’s coup and his no-deal Brexit plan, and committing to mobilise for demonstrations. Hopefully we’ll see some RMT, and other union, banners at demos in the coming days.

    We also encourage all readers to sign the "Trade Unionists Against the Coup" statement, online here.

    Restrictive anti-union laws prevent us striking over political issues, so we can’t take official industrial action to protest Johnson’s coup or to oppose no-deal. But, as with the 20 September climate strike, we urgently need to discuss ways workers can support direct action that is taking place. Ultimately, unjust laws will need to be broken.

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    Greening the Tube?

    Published on: Thu, 29/08/2019 - 22:41

    According to LU's own figures, the company produces 585,000 tones of CO2 emissions per year. To offset that, you'd need to plant 26,000,000 trees.

    Our bosses' solution to this? Encourage staff to recycle and turn out the lights.

    Fine, we should all try our best not to be wasteful, but let's be honest here: those individual behavioural changes simply don't address the scale of the problem.

    Our unions need to develop, and demand the company implements, comprehensive plans to reduce emissions, including by expanding schemes such as the one whereby waste heat from Northern Line tunnels is used to heat homes in Islington. Power supply workers and engineers should work together to develop a plan to source the electricity used to run our system from entirely renewable sources. All LU buildings should be fitted with the latest renewable and energy conservation technology.

    Implementing a serious plan to reduce LU's carbon emissions requires investment. And securing that investment requires a concerted political fight, led by our unions, to restore the central government subsidy to TfL. In such a fight, we should demand that our Labour mayor - who talks a big game on climate change - should back us.

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    Support the 20 September climate strike!

    Published on: Tue, 23/07/2019 - 11:02

    School students who have been striking to demand radical action on climate change have issued a call for workers to join them in their next strike on 20 September.

    Climate change is one of the most serious issues facing our society. Scientists calculate that we now have around a decade to take action to avert ecological catastrophe. Failure to do this could lead to droughts, floods, extreme heat, food scarcity, and more, affecting millions of people.

    As public transport workers, we work in an industry that needs to be radically expanded to give people a meaningful alternative to high-emissions forms of transport such as cars.

    71% of greenhouse gas emissions since 1988 have come from just 100 corporations. Confronting climate change means confronting capitalism’s drive for profit. As workers, whose labour powers the economy, we have a unique potential power to challenge the rule of profit and change the way our society is organised. The Evening Standard estimates that a single day’s strike on the Tube “costs” the London economy £300 million.

    School climate strikers know that they need organised labour to act with them if we are to win real change. Their call for workers to join their 20 September strike is a challenge to all of us to step up to the plate and play in a role in saving our planet.

    Currently, there are real obstacles our employers and the state have set up to prevent workers taking effective action. For example, anti-union legislation prevents us from striking over “political” issues, meaning we couldn’t hold legal strikes over the issue of climate change in and of itself. Balloting laws make the process of organising a strike bureaucratic and long-winded. Our unions need to renew their efforts to challenge and defeat such anti-union legislation.

    We also need to think creatively about how we can support the 20 September call. Two unions, the University and College Union (UCU) and the Bakers’ union, have officially declared their support for the 20 September strike, with UCU encouraging its members to organise mini walkouts. Some branches of Unison in local government and education are also planning action.

    Simply walking off the job en masse is not feasible for us (yet!), but we can still act in support of the climate strike on 20 September. Here are three suggestions from us here at Tubeworker:

    • Even a small workplace action, such as getting everyone together in the mess room to take a photo holding signs/placards supporting the strike, could have an important symbolic impact.
    • Workers at Zone 1 stations could attend the school strikers’ rally, which will take place in central London.
    • If we are in a position to call strikes in any of our own ongoing disputes - such as the fight against Transformation, the pay fight, or the ABM cleaners’ dispute - we should consider coordinating action on 20 September. We should also highlight the environmental aspects of our existing demand. The demand for a reduced working week has many resonances in this regard: for example, more time away from work can help reduce emissions by reducing the need for daily commutes. Longer holidays for all workers also mean less pressure to use short-haul air travel and could allow us to use international rail travel instead.
    • Longer term, we should look to build disputes which use environmental issues as a workplace organising tool. For example, air quality is a significant issues affecting Tube workers. We should seek to organise a dispute demanding TfL, LU, and the Mayor take further action to improve air quality in and around Tube stations. Workers striking over environmental issues in the workplace could then coordinate with school students striking over the general issue of climate change.

    To organise any of this needs an urgent discussion in the workplace about climate change issues, how they affect us, and what we can do about them. It also needs us to ensure these issues are being discussed seriously within our unions.

    Without working-class direct action against climate change, we have no future. With such action, a better future is possible.


    A workers' climate plan for transport?

    To avoid climate catastrophe, we need to demand radical measures from our government, such as public ownership of all energy generation.

    But workers can also propose plans for our own industries and workplaces, like Lucas Aerospace workers did in the 1970s when they proposed to repurpose their factory to produce sustainable, socially-useful technology rather than military hardware. As part of a workers’ climate plan for transport, we could demand:

    • Expansion of projects to use waste heat/energy generated by the Tube to power or heat homes
    • A specific energy contract to ensure electricity powering the Tube is generated from renewable sources
    • TfL to audit its vast property portfolio and end the practise of selling off buildings and land to luxury developers; ensure all buildings are sustainbly powered; invest in parkland projects
    • Restore the government subsidy
    • Democratic workers’ and passengers’ control of transport.

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    City Hall security assaults activists to spare Khan’s blushes

    Published on: Thu, 20/06/2019 - 13:21

    RMT took the fight against ”Transformation” cuts and the exploitation of outsourced cleaners to Sadiq Khan’s front door today, with a demonstration outside City Hall, organised to coincide with Mayor’s Questions.

    Other unions, including Unite and IWGB, had also organised actions, along with environmental campaigners from Extinction Rebellion.

    After rallying and chanting outside the building, a small delegation of activists peacefully attempted to enter City Hall and were violently assaulted by private security guards. Several were left with bruises and scrapes. These are the violent lengths City Hall will apparently go to in order to save Sadiq Khan the embarrassment of being confronted with the cuts and exploitation taking place on his watch!

    With RMT now balloting for strikes against Transformation, and planning ballots of cleaners, Interserve security staff, and of all directly-employed LU staff over pay and conditions, we wonder whether Khan will be able to continue to ignore workers’ demands when our strikes bring London to a standstill.

    Tubeworker topics

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    Demonstrate at City Hall!

    Published on: Tue, 18/06/2019 - 12:00

    RMT has called a demo outside City Hall on Thursday 20 June. It demands “no Tory cuts under a Labour mayor”, pressing Sadiq Khan not to pass on Tory austerity to transport workers and users in London.

    The two specific focuses are the “Transformation” scheme, which threatens thousands of jobs in engineering and admin roles, and the struggles of outsourced workers.

    The demo assembles from 10:00. Tubeworker will be there, and we hope you will be too.

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