Tube unions & politics

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.

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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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Bring the Jobs Fights Together!

Published on: Fri, 08/02/2019 - 14:40

Many grades in many locations are suffering under the destaffing over recent years, or are facing imminent cuts to jobs.

The unions - primarily RMT - are fighting back on several fronts. RMT has scored some successes, including on Bakerloo South stations groups and the cleaning contractor, ABM.

Now, more stations groups are going into action, and the union is gearing up for battles against a 2009 agreement on trains that restricts depot staffing levels, and threatened cuts to train prep.

Moreover, other issues under dispute - for example, the ludicrous red tabards, or unacceptable rosters or ticketing problems - are rooted in staff shortages.

Our fightback will be stronger if we fight the roots cause rather than just the symptoms. The more we can bring these disparate disputes together, the better.

This might be easier said than done, particularly since the imposition of difficult-to-reach ballot thresholds by the 2016 Trade Union Act, but with the will and the effort, it can be done. And even if we don't feel ready to call everyone out on strike yet, we can synchronise ballots and actions in different areas.

Moreover, the root cause has a root cause too, as under-staffing is the result of under-funding. Tubeworker would like to see our unions campaign more stridently against the government's cut to TfL's funding and TfL's failure to fight that cut.

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Bosses treat us like equipment - we say: fight for socialism!

Published on: Sat, 26/01/2019 - 14:31

It can sometimes be difficult to see beyond the small battles we fight all the time at work; these can lead to two attitudes.
One is to say, “Why are we banging on about socialism, we’re a trade union, what's that got to do with us?”. The opposite is, “what's the use? Even if we win this small battle and they'll just come back at us with something else.”

However, there is a very simple reason why these small battles are not only important, but expose the very nature of the system we live in.

Whether we are defending an individual member who the company wants to get rid of, fighting for a reduced working week, or campaigning against red tabards, we are saying one thing: we are not robots, we are not pieces of machinery. We are complete human beings entitled to a home life, to leisure, relaxation, and fun. We do useful work and many of us are proud to work on the Underground, but work is not what we are for. It's not the reason for our existence.

The reason we have to fight for this to be recognised is that we live in a capitalist society.

London Underground has to quantify everything in monetary terms. When our system breaks down, the impact is measured in terms of money lost to the economy. When a part of the machinery breaks, it must be repaired as quickly as possible or thrown away if it will take too long to repair. London Underground sees us in the same way.

The system works a lot more efficiently if all of its parts (us!) are obedient and trouble free. If we’re on strike, it costs money; if we're sick, it costs money; if the system can be run with fewer of us, it saves money; if each unit (person) performs more tasks, it saves money.

The needs of the system are completely opposite to the needs of the workers because of this contradiction.

When we fight the smaller battles mentioned earlier, they are a direct product of that. When we fight against a member being medically retired, we are saying, “No, she's not a piece of broken down machinery, she's a human being and must be treated like one.”

When we fight against red tabards, we’re saying, “No, we won't help you pretend to the customers that the only thing wrong with your programme of cuts was a mistake in the colour of the uniform.”

When we fight for cleaner air, a shorter working week, longer holidays, we’re saying, “We are entitled to this because our purpose as human beings is to live healthy, happy lives. We are not profit producing robots”. Socialism is what a society would look like if it was measured in human terms.

Capitalism must be resisted, and we will fight to chip away at it until we can abolish it altogether.

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Labour rank-and-file challenge Tory cuts and Sadiq Khan's failures

Published on: Sun, 06/01/2019 - 21:00

London Labour Party members are set to debate a resolution condemning both the Tory government's cut to TfL funding and Sadiq Khan's decision to implement rather than fight the cuts. The resolution, which has already been passed by one branch, is copied here.


This conference condemns the savage cuts in funding to Transport for London by the Conservative government, which expects London Underground to be the only major metro system in the world to run without public subsidy.

This conference notes:
1. Transport for London’s plans to cut bus routes and London Overground ticket offices, adversely affecting working-class areas and access to public transport for poor and disabled people
2. that cleaners on London Underground and elsewhere on TfL are employed by contractors and agencies at very low rates of pay, with minimal rights to sick pay and leave
3. that TfL has awarded its top bosses pay rises of up to 74%

This conference would expect such policies from a Conservative Mayor and GLA, and is seriously disappointed to see them implemented by a Labour administration.

This conference further notes that Labour party members will be campaigning for Labour’s candidate for Mayor this year, and wish to do so on the basis of progressive, socialist policies rather than having to defend indefensible policies such as those listed above.

This conference calls on Labour’s Mayor and GLA members to:
1. launch a major campaign against the funding cut rather than implementing it with minimal protest
2. abandon its plans to cut bus routes and close ticket offices
3. boost the pay of its workers, especially the lowest-paid, rather than its highest-paid managers
4. bring contracted-out services such as cleaning, catering and maintenance functions into direct TfL ownership and control

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Michelle Rodgers for RMT National President!

Published on: Sun, 23/09/2018 - 13:13

Michelle Rodgers works for Arriva Rail North, where she is a local RMT rep. She sat on the union’s National Executive Committee from 2014-2017, and is the secretary of RMT Manchester South branch. She is standing to be the union’s next national president; Tubeworker is supporting her campaign. We spoke to Michelle about her approach to trade unionism and why London Underground workers should vote for her. Ballot papers will be delivered to RMT members’ home addresses from 1 October. Speak to your local rep to ensure your details are up-to-date.

Q: How would you explain the role of the president to an RMT member who isn’t necessarily engaged in the structures of the union?

A: The president is there to ensure the union is run democratically, in an open and participatory way, and that members’ voices are heard. It is the highest “lay” position in the union, rather than being an “officer” position; this means that the president is released from their job for a three-year term before going back to work. The president is a voice for the grassroots membership in the national leadership of the union, helping to ensure the union takes its direction from the wishes of the members.

Q: What kind of president would you be?

A: I cut my teeth in a lengthy unofficial strike in 1993. That taught me a lot. The key lesson I learnt was that as workers, our power ultimately comes from our ability to withdraw our labour. I’m well aware of all the industrial issues London Underground workers are facing, across all grades, as well as the major political issue of the Tories’ cuts to TfL funding, and the struggles of outsourced workers like cleaners. Our best means of winning change on all of these is through coordinated industrial action. RMT has a proud history of helping members organise to take action; as president, I’d ensure that any group of workers who wanted to take action to improve their conditions at work were supported and encouraged in doing that, rather than being dissuaded or held back.

With the “Corbyn surge” in Labour, we’ve seen a lot of young people energised by radical politics and inspired to get active. We need something similar in the trade union movement, including RMT. As president I’d work to make our union as open and democratic as possible, as well as continuing and developing our militant traditions, to ensure members could take ownership of union structures and use the union to fight for change at work.

The three key principles of my campaign are “democracy, equality, solidarity”. Democracy, because as president I’d work to ensure the union’s democracy was upheld and extended so rank-and-file members can lead; equality, because I fight for a socialist society based on equality, and because I want to advance equality within the union; and solidarity, because it’s only by standing together with each other and taking action as workers that we can win change.

Q: The workforce in many parts of London Underground, especially on stations and amongst cleaners, is very diverse; if elected, how will you ensure the full diversity of the unions’ membership is represented?

A: I am the equalities candidate in this election. It was debates in our union, including in the pages of RMT News, around equalities that finally spurred me on to stand. I’m a strong believer that all the equalities campaigns within the union – women members, LGBT members, BAME members, and disabled members – should be empowered, so they’re better able to make sure members from these backgrounds, who are often under-represented in the union, are at the heart of what the union does.

Q: How will help members, who may currently see the union as a kind of “insurance policy” that’s only relevant to them if they get in trouble, become more engaged and active?

A: Union reps and activists can sometimes become insular, only really talking to people who are already involved. We need to turn outwards. As a local rep, I’ve made particular efforts to engage with new members, and especially young members, about what the union is and how they can get active. They’re now amongst our core branch activists. I’ve also ensured our branch meetings have enough time on their agenda to allow any member to come along and have their workplace issues discussed. As president I’d work with everyone – from NEC members down to local reps – to build that same culture of openness and participation throughout the whole union. The union is all of us, and it belongs to all of us.

Q: The pressures of working life, including shift work, as well as the pressures of being a union rep and activist, can lead to burnout, and mental health issues. There is a growing conversation about mental health in society; how would you continue that conversation within the union?

As a local rep and branch officer, my door is always open. That would be my policy if elected as national president. My door would always be open to any member. We need to be open and honest with each other about pressures we’re facing, and mental health issues we may be experiencing. The union should be a supportive environment for all members. We’re starting to take those issues more seriously, with some excellent courses on mental health awareness at work, and how reps can organise to fight for positive change at work around these issues, being run via our National Education Centre. I’d support those efforts and encourage as many reps and activists as possible to attend.

Q: There’s sometimes a frustration that, when we pass resolutions through our RMT branches, they seem to get lost in union officialdom or knocked back for bureaucratic reasons. What would you do as president to improve that?

A: I will be in constant communication with your elected reps and officers at all levels, from workplace reps to branch officers to your National Executive member, to ensure that the resolutions you pass through your branches are responded to and acted on as swiftly as possible. I’m not afraid to stand up to national officers like the General Secretary and Assistant General Secretaries when necessary. The union must be led by the democratic decisions of our members. The president is there to ensure that happens.

The “Piccadilly Four” strike, and what it taught me about trade unionism

Michelle says...

I cut my teeth in the union in a lengthy strike, which began as unofficial action, in 1993. The employer at the time was still British Rail, and I was working out of Manchester Piccadilly station as a guard. Our reps were negotiating with management about rosters, and the talks had reached an impasse. There was an agreed procedure for what should happen next, but instead of following it, our bosses decided to sabotage the negotiations. They ripped up papers in the meeting, told the reps they’d be imposing the rosters whether we, the workers, liked it or not, and stormed out.

The next day the rosters were imposed, so we walked off the job. It was a spontaneous, wildcat strike. We just walked off our trains. The impact showed me the power that workers’ action can have.

The bosses accused our reps of inciting us to take unofficial action, as sacked them. That just made us more determined to fight. We were on unofficial strike for three-and-a-half weeks. We had mass meetings of guards in a club near Manchester Piccadilly. I was driving round union branches in the region collecting for our strike fund. That taught me a lesson too, about the need for the union to be prepared to support members taking sustained industrial action financially. When I was on the National Executive, I consistently pushed for proper strike funds to support our members taking action against Driver Only Operation. If elected president, I’d work with NEC members and reps to make sure we did that.

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