London Underground dispute: defend our union!

Submitted by Matthew on 16 December, 2010 - 1:09 Author: Darren Bedford

As the battle over jobs continues, RMT members on London Underground are preparing to take action to defend two union reps from victimisation.

Bakerloo line health and safety rep Eamonn Lynch was initially dismissed after he followed an instruction from the line control centre which turned out to be erroneous. A driver who made a similar “mistake” a year ago on the Piccadilly Line was given a warning rather than the sack. Management are attempting to victimise a well-respected union rep in the midst of an increasingly bitter dispute and, by attacking drivers’ reps, could be attempting to weaken one of the stronger groups of workers.

The union was able to win “interim relief” (essentially full pay) for Eamonn at an Employment Tribunal — something which, according to the RMT, is only ever granted where “there is the clearest possible evidence that an employee has been dismissed on the grounds of their trade union activities.” But despite that outcome, London Underground management has upheld Eamonn's sacking.

Their actions expose the paper-thin and class-biased nature of the whole tribunal process, which is unfortunately all-too-often relied upon by many unions as the sole way to deal with cases of bullying and victimisations.

By contrast, the RMT has a good record of collectivising issues of individual victimisations and bullying. As the RMT’s Bakerloo branch newsletter proclaims, “this strike is not just about Eamonn Lynch — it’s about you!” An industrial action ballot was organised and returned with 95% in favour of strike action and industrial action short of a strike. RMT members at both Elephant and Castle and Queens Park traincrew depots (both ends of the Bakerloo line) take strike action that starts with the night shifts on Friday 17 and continues all day Saturday 18 December.

Arwyn Thomas, another victimised activist, based at the Morden depot, is facing disciplinary charges for allegations made against him by a strike-breaking manager. The union has reviewed CCTV footage which clearly show Arywn walking calmly away from two attempts by managers to provoke him into an argument. RMT members at Morden traincrew depot will be taking strike action during the same period as members on the Bakerloo line.

Activists on both the Northern and Bakerloo lines had initially planned a 48-hour strike on the Friday and Saturday, and it is unfortunate that the union has gone for 24-hour action instead. Experience tells us that management can usually cope with 24-hour strikes, but would struggle to cope with longer ones.

RMT General Secretary Bob Crow said “By announcing these two dates for action we are sending out a signal that LU will not be allowed to get away with picking off our activists. Instead of harassing our members and activists on trumped up charges, the London Underground management should be directing their energies into reaching a settlement to the on-going disputes over tube safety and safe staffing levels.”

The jobs dispute is one that needs to be escalated if it is to win. The RMT has suspended the overtime ban on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. It does not want to take action that will hit the working-class travelling public as much — if not more — as it will hit LU bosses’ profits. But whatever the rights and wrongs of that decision, it has become increasingly clear that sporadic 24-hour actions are not enough to force concessions from management.

RMT and TSSA have recently renewed their offers of further talks to management, within a specific framework structured around reviews into various aspects of the cuts proposals. The unions’ hand at the negotiating table would be greatly strengthened, however, if sustained strike action of at least 48-hour was scheduled.

Rank-and-file RMT and TSSA members should use strike committee meetings to pressure their officials to escalate the dispute as a matter of urgency.

Unfortunately, tube workers are now in a situation where the series of four 24-hour strikes has finished, but the Executive has not yet announced new strike dates, only non-specific threats to escalate the action in the new year. While the unions take a festive breather, the company is not doing so, but is going ahead with its process of cutting not just the 800 stations jobs but a further 800 jobs as part of the “support services review”.

Information from the union has been patchy, so members are left wondering what the unions’ strategy is. Tube workers have shown willing to fight these job cuts, and need a clearer strategy from the unions as to how they intend to pursue this dispute and get a result. If the union leadership is incapable of providing that strategy, rank-and-file activists must fight to impose a strategy of their own.

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