Rank-and-file score a victory on Tube

Submitted by Anon on 19 April, 2007 - 9:12

By a London Underground worker

The RMT union has called off its scheduled strike action on Metronet, the London Underground maintenance company (or Infraco). This follows what appears to be a full capitulation by management. The union had demanded that the Infraco drop its plan to transfer the employment of 49 Duty Depot Managers to Bombardier, one of the component companies of the Metronet consortium. Metronet has agreed not to go ahead with the transfer.

Moreover, the various sweeteners that Metronet used to try to lure RMT into accepting the DDMs’ transfer remain part of this new deal. We may now see lifts and escalators contracts brought back in-house, and cleaning services too — if Metronet keeps its promises. And in case it doesn’t, the strike action has been suspended rather than the dispute settled.

Two hundred employees will, however, transfer. They are all senior managers and admin staff, widely disliked by the workforce. RMT does not negotiate for this group of employees, who are largely members of TSSA. Other TSSA members, whether in Metronet, London Underground or other companies, should reflect on how their union has done nothing to prevent its members being re-privatised.

It remains to be seen whether the thousands of RMT members in engineering and fleet grades will be adversely affected by the fact that their senior managers will now work for a different employer. Will these managers have a role in hiring and firing workers? If so, will there be a problem in taking industrial action against a different employer in defence of a sacked workmate?

But this dispute was about the 49 RMT DDMs, and on that issue, the union has clearly won. DDM is a very low-level manager grade, which might in the past have been called “depot foreman”. Having seen their workmates from other grades prepared to strike in their defence, we can now hope that they will see which side their bread is buttered on and integrate themselves into a unionised workforce.

The key to the victory is the role rank-and-file members played. RMT’s leadership wanted to accept a much poorer offer. Workplace reps told the leadership’s negotiating team that they were not prepared to compromise. The negotiating team — which includes rank-and-file reps as well as full-time officers — was changed to a stronger one; the leadership accepted the will of the reps, the strike action was kept on, and preparations began in earnest for the action. Facing the prospect of an effective strike, Metronet caved in.

Also key to the success was that the two RMT branches involved established a strike committee, which gained endorsement from the union’s regional council. This helped to give reps the confidence to push for a good deal and laid the foundation for potentially effective action.

A victory for solidarity and rank-and-file self-assertion.

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