London Underground: "Strategies driven by the rank-and-file"

Submitted by Matthew on 12 January, 2011 - 3:59

AWL member Janine Booth has recently become the first woman ever to hold the London Transport regional seat on the RMT’s Executive. She won her election by 2,062 to 947 for Lewis Peacock, a well-respected Socialist Party member (also supported by the SWP and the right wing) who campaigned on a platform of backing the RMT leadership. Janine spoke to Solidarity.

Your election victory was pretty resounding; tell us about the campaign.

I think that my win was quite decisive because lots of people worked hard campaigning for their workmates to vote for me; because lots of members already know me as a fighter for workers against management and a champion of rank-and-file concerns; and because members responded to what I said in my election address and campaign materials.

The key theme of my election campaign was that, facing job cuts, bullying management and attacks on our pay, conditions and pensions, we need a more effective union. That means a more democratic union, with less bureaucracy; imaginative campaigning strategies that members support; strike pay where appropriate; and uniting with working-class communities, other trade unions, and socialist politicians.

What do you plan to do as an Executive member?

It is a full-time post with a three-year term of office, and the General Grades Committee (that section of the Executive that represents members in rail and other industries, but not shipping) meets regularly to make decisions about our continual battles with the employers to defend jobs, pay, conditions, pensions etc. I plan to propose (and support other Executive members’ proposals for) strategies for the effective defence of workers — strategies that are driven by rank-and-file members and which have their support.

I also plan to argue for effective organising — better communications, increasing membership, training and supporting reps — believing that workers will join, and will get active in, a union if it fights effectively in their interests, and if it is democratic enough that they know they and their workmates can effect what the union says and does.

I plan to improve the union’s work on equalities. While RMT is better than many other unions in many respects, in the area of equalities it is weak. I am only the third woman ever to be elected onto the Executive, and the first for the London Transport region. I think the best way to improve work on equalities is to make sure that our “advisory committees” (for women, lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender, black and ethnic minority and young members) have their issues taken up and their ideas acted upon, rather than being seen as ineffectual talking shops.

RMT is already working hard to build for the TUC demonstration in March, and I think that everyone on the Executive is committed to the union being part of the general fightback against the ConDem government’s cuts. We would certainly want to co-ordinate action with other unions. I aim to ensure that everything I propose — whether on industrial issues or political campaigns — has the support of the members I represent, and that we involve rank-and-file members in campaigns on these issues. Finally, I would like to see us make real progress towards achieving the goal of one union for all rail and transport workers.

What’s the status of the battle against London Underground job cuts?

LU is pressing ahead with the job cuts, but the unions’ resistance to it has faltered. RMT and TSSA had four 24-hour strikes, the most recent at the end of November, but then did not name any more. This left members wondering what was happening, and made it look like the fight was over. There is a review taking place, where management and union reps will discuss some aspects of the job cuts, but I doubt that anything significant will come from that unless the unions name dates for further strikes. The majority of our branches have also taken this view, so I have proposed a 48-hour strike later this month, with strike pay: this has been agreed.

With momentum having waned, and not everyone convinced that we can fight on and win, we need to get officials and reps out round workplaces, to keep everyone informed of how the talks are going, and step up public and media campaigning. This has been agreed too.

As the company posts new rosters, issues displacement letters and reveals plans to further cut jobs, it is important that Underground workers know that their unions have not given up the fight to defend jobs.

What are the main struggles London Transport workers will face over the coming year?

All the employers within the Region (which is not just London Underground!) will doubtless attack jobs, conditions and pensions — and none will willingly put their hands in their pockets to give us a decent pay rise without a fight!

RMT members on Docklands Light Railway are currently balloting for industrial action over a series of attacks by the company; we could soon see the first ever strike in the DLR’s history!

The Olympics are looming, and I believe that employers will use the Games as a pretext to introduce casualised forms of working that they will then keep in place afterwards. In order to weaken opposition to their attacks, employers regularly try to pick off union reps and activists. At present, we are fighting the unjust sackings of Tube drivers Eamonn Lynch and Arwyn Thomas; and a stations rep, Peter Hartshorn, may also soon face the sack.

These are mostly defensive struggles, but I would like to see us go on the offensive for the sort of public transport system we would like to see, based around a workers’ and passengers’ plan.

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