This could be a summer of strike action for railway and London Underground workers, with RMT members being balloted in disputes over job cuts, pay, and pensions. The entire labour movement must offer full support to these struggles.
The RMT union is currently balloting 2,000 staff employed by Transport for London (TfL) for strike action. This is in response to attacks being pushed through by management under the guise of a so-called “Transformation Programme”.
In practice this means yet more cuts across the board. Workers being balloted include those in essential sectors such as engineering, signals, track maintenance and in control centres.
Mick Cash, RMT general secretary, underlined the importance of the ballot, which closes tomorrow, on 16 July. Cash asserted that the “RMT on London Transport is now on a war footing”.
The Tory press, led by the Evening Standard in London (which has now endorsed Boris Johnson), has complained as expected about the union “holding London to ransom”. The Standard has argued that the union apparently fails to recognise that the management review is just about trying to find extra cash to do useful stuff whilst not raising (already exorbitant) fares.
Unless TfL and the Standard are aware of any secret horde of gold hidden on the Central line, it is obvious where this new money is going to come from: cutting jobs, attacking staff pensions, and compromising on safety and working conditions.
TfL has been under pressure ever since the Tory government ruthlessly slashed £700 million of central government funding for transport services in London.
Added to this loss has been the additional costs and loss of expected income arising from the delays on the troubled Crossrail project. This is currently the subject of multiple accusations and counter-accusations on the part of just about every interested party involved.
Concerns have been raised that, rather than mounting a serious fight against the Tory attacks, London Mayor Sadiq Khan – who likes to portray a ‘business friendly’ image – is looking to solve the funding shortfall through new cuts. These will be made using the facade of the Transformation Programme.
Mick Cash spelt out the reality of the situation:
“Staff across London Underground are furious at the attempts to smuggle in a creeping programme of cuts and privatisation under the cloak of the transformation programme. The fact that this stitch-up in being rolled out under the watch of a London Labour Mayor is disgraceful.”
Unite and strike
Crucially, the union has made it clear that, if need be, the ballot could be extended to other TfL workers. The possibility of a network-wide strike on the London Underground was increased last week when Tube bosses failed to come forward with a decent offer in the latest negotiations over pay.
“Our negotiators are angry and frustrated,” stated Mick Cash. “RMT is not in the business of being strung along by anyone and the company should wake up, recognise how angry staff are becoming at this cavalier attitude from their top brass and come up with an offer that meets our expectations.”
Cash added that “preparations for a combine-wide ballot of our 10,000 members are well under way”, highlighting the potential for an entire Tube shutdown.
Any action could also be linked to other public transport strikes taking place. Clearly the union has in mind the potential for a national rail strike.
This could take place following the imminent ballot of workers employed in 23 train-operating companies. These railway workers are being consulted regarding strike action over a pensions dispute. If it goes ahead, such a national rail strike would be the first since 1994.
The war footing call is the correct one. We call for the biggest possible turnout and vote for action in all ballots taking place. This should form part of a general unified offensive against the Tory attacks on our public transport system and those who work for it.
All the rail unions must now mobilise for militant action and demand support from the rest of the trade union and labour movement.
This crisis also serves to underline the mess the whole public transport system is in after decades of privatisation, cuts, and mismanagement.
The only way forward is for nationalisation of the whole system under workers’ control, as part of a socialist transport policy. This is what Labour must call for now – and act upon once in office.
The time has come to take the Tories on.