RMT has again announced strikes over Night Tube “grade consolidation”, as management are intent on destroying work/life balance and bumping up dangerous, fatigue inducing shift patterns in order to save themselves some cash. The first 24-hour strike is on 26 November, followed by strikes during Night Tube hours every Friday/Saturday until 17-18 December, with a further 24-hour strike on 18 December.
Train operators in both unions now have a simple choice: respect picket lines and fight to defend work/life balance, or don't, and signal to management that their opening salvo in the plan to remake the post-lockdown Tube workplace has been a success.
Grade consolidation isn't just management tinkering. An entire grade, the part-time TO23 role, was scrapped, longstanding agreements reached at Acas ripped up, and drivers, many of whom have worked for LU for decades, told that they would now be working significantly more weekends and night shifts.
It's no overstatement to describe the plan as a betrayal of a grade who worked full shifts throughout Covid lockdowns, imposed by a senior management team who had the luxury of coming up with these schemes from the comfort and safety of their own homes.
A recent company bulletin from senior bosses shows the disdain and lack of respect they have for us, who they insist on patronisingly referring to as “our people”.
The bulletin states: "We've continued meeting with [RMT] to hear their concerns, but we’ve been presented with no realistic alternatives [to grade consolidation]". Tubeworker knows that one “realistic alternative” is the model that was in operation for three years before Covid. Another “realistic alternative”, even within a consolidated model, is to make Night Tube shifts voluntary. If bosses need some certainty over coverage, this could be done with a fixed-link system, with a notice period or waiting list required to withdraw. The reason management don't want to make the Night Tube shifts voluntary is that they know most full-time drivers don't want to work nights shifts.
The bulletin goes on to say: "Grade consolidation was a positive change for […] our people. It allowed us to […] become a fairer place to work."
Tubeworker knows though that any driver forced to work a night shift they don't want to work, and didn't have to work before grade consolidation, will struggle to see how it is “fairer” or a “positive change”.
The frequency and increased confidence with which senior management try to change the narrative - to one where working worse shift patterns is “fairer” and a long established way of working is now “not realistic” - should be of concern to all of us on the frontline.
Tubeworker wonders what will we see in future management bulletins. That it is no longer “realistic” to honour the pension we were promised when we started our careers on London Underground? Perhaps they will type, from the comfort of their living room sofas, that it is better and “fairer” for “their people” (i.e., us, the workers on the frontline, never them) if we take a pay cut or work longer hours. Will we be educated by senior management on how it is “better for London” if jobs on London's Tube network are slashed (whilst they wish there were no unions, or rank-and-file publications like Tubeworker to call them out on their nonsense)?
Maybe, as one director gleefully rips up the Attendance At Work policy on a Microsoft Teams video call whilst working at home nursing a broken leg, another will hastily and unashamedly post the employee bulletin telling those of us whose labour keeps the wheels turning that it is “fairer” if we are all on a worse attendance procedure, and better for “our people” if we have our sick pay cut, or are simply sacked, should we find ourselves suffering from a repeated or long term ailment?
The RMT-organised Night Tube strikes are the first opportunity we have to demonstrate to management, to the Mayor of London, and to the Tory government that we won't stand by and let them attack our terms and conditions in this way.
Aslef have a long standing, well-supported, and recently renewed strike mandate, although it is yet to call action, and backed management's grade consolidation attack. Aslef's renewed mandate, and the upcoming RMT ballot for action to resist detrimental changes to pension arrangements, are further opportunities we have as workers to stop senior management's rewriting of reality and their redefinition of “fairness”.
Train operators must send a strong message, via solid strikes and well-supported picket lines, and going forward all Tube workers, in all functions and grades, should prepare for joint action so we can show management what we, the workers, see as being “fair” and “realistic” for giving up a massive chunk of our lives for London Underground to keep the system going during the pandemic.