Tube unions have suspended their industrial action after London Underground management made an offer that included some concessions and retreats. HOLT is not tied to any union and has no “policy”, as such, on the suspension of the action or the terms of the deal. We reprint this blog, written by a young Tube worker and first published on the South East Region TUC (SERTUC) Young Members’ blog, to encourage discussion.
“Our strikes have stalled the bosses’ plans: keep up the momentum to win more!”
Reporting on the RMT and TSSA’s decision to suspend the strikes planned for 11-13 February, the Daily Mail described how London Underground management had “caved to militants” by offering concessions and stepping back from its planned cuts and ticket office closures.
That such a newspaper sees the suspension as a win for unions is significant. Before our rock-solid strike on 4-6 February, London Underground bosses and Boris Johnson were claiming that workers were standing with our feet in the tide, that striking would “achieve nothing at all”, and that the cuts plans would press ahead unchanged. All of that has been proved manifestly untrue.
The deal for which our unions agreed to suspend the action isn’t a total victory by any means, but it does contain some real concessions. Redundancy notices have been withdrawn, and LU management has agreed to a station-by-station review of ticket offices, and has agreed that the review will have the power to keep some ticket offices open. There will be a two-month discussion period between unions and the company in which the plans could be revised further.
Workers’ action won all of that. It forced an intransigent, bitterly anti-union Tory Mayor, and his allies in the management of our company, to make changes to a plan they told us couldn’t, wouldn’t change.
But the dispute is not over, and suspending the action is not without risks. To make sure bosses don’t regain the upper hand, our unions and allies need a programme of action – protests, rallies, public meetings, and other events – to keep the pressure on the employer and the issue in the news. Unions should keep up the levels of mobilisation we’ve been building during the strike, and we should call new strikes, now, for April, so bosses know that strikes will resume if the two-month discussion period doesn’t result in any real changes to their plans.
This not merely an industrial fight, but a political battle between two contending visions for how the Tube, arguably the key component of the public transport system in Britain’s capital, should be organised and run. If unions and our supporters in the community keep up our momentum, we can gain even more ground for our vision, and force that of Boris and the bosses even further back.
LU bosses claim their “Fit For The Future” plan is about bringing station staff out from behind ticket office windows and making them more visible on platforms, but the result of their massive staffing cuts will be a Tube that is poorly staffed, and therefore less safe and efficient for passengers. An automated ticket hall machine can’t answer a query, or give accessible directions to a tourist, or help disabled passengers use the Tube safely.
Getting rid of ticket offices is part of a wider, long-term plan to drive down labour costs on London Underground, de-staff and automate the network, and eke out as much profit as possible. LU bosses want more casualisation and agency labour on the Tube, and they want to lease space in our stations to corporate retailers to install pick-up points for online shoppers. That’s the vision we’re setting ourselves against. We’re not just fighting to save ticket offices and maintain staffing levels, we’re fighting for a Tube where passenger safety, efficiency of service, and decent terms and conditions for staff come before the needs of profit.
Our first strike saw incredible solidarity from passengers, other unions, and community groups. Disabled activists, whose travelling experience would be dramatically worsened under the cuts, staged protests in solidarity with the strike. Continuing and extending that kind of support will be vital as the dispute goes on. It will be particularly important now during the promised station-by-station review of ticket office closures. Visible direct actions from disabled people and other passengers to demand that ticket offices remain open will put huge public pressure on management.
Such solidarity is also a massive boost for us as London Underground staff. Having to contend with a daily barrage of anti-union bile from the right-wing press can be demoralising, so any gesture of solidarity and support can have a hugely galvanising and morale-boosting effect.
Our bosses’ plans don’t stop with ticket office closures and cuts to station staffing levels. We already know, from leaked info, that management plan to come for trains, engineering, service control, and other grades of Tube workers after they’re done with stations. They want driverless trains, maintained by casualised engineers employed by agencies and contractors, running through stations staffed at minimum levels. But if they can be beaten back at this stage, the first stage of their attack, they may be forced to abandon the whole plan.
As a young worker who’s recently started working on London Underground, I know this dispute is a fight for the future of my job. I want to work on a Tube where our passengers can rely on us to be there when they need us, to help them with whatever access needs they have, and where they know there’ll always be a ticket office staffed with skilled, well-trained staff they can turn to for help when they need it. The changes management plan to make to station workers’ terms and conditions will also make it much harder for me to progress in the company.
Fundamentally, our dispute is a reminder of the immense power workers have when we stand together. Nothing in society happens without our labour making it happen — no trains run, no classes get taught in schools and universities, no offices get cleaned, no local council services function, nothing. By striking, we’re not “holding London to ransom”, as the Evening Standard and other anti-union papers love to claim, we’re staking our claim, as the people on whose labour London relies, for a say in how our workplace is organised, and refusing to roll over while our bosses force through cuts that we know will damage not only our working conditions but the vital service we provide.
Our fantastic strike has already forced the bosses into a limited retreat. With a concerted union and community-led campaign, we can force them back even more.
Our dispute is a fight for our jobs and for the safety and quality of the service we provide to the travelling public, and, ultimately, it’s a fight over whether the interests of profit should predominate over the interests of workers and passengers. We believe they shouldn’t. A win for us will be a win for the whole labour movement.