By Bernie McAdam
Successive governments – Tories and Labour alike – have tried for decades to break the RMT, the train and tube workers’ union.
This government is no different. The industrial strength of the union is such that it can bring the capital, and therefore the economy, to its knees. The £2 billion shortfall in Transport for London’s (TfL) funding is the government’s excuse to fight a strategic battle with this powerful section of transport workers.
Clearly the drop in passengers during the pandemic has highlighted TfL problems, but more fundamentally the Tory government refuses to adequately subsidise the service. During the pandemic, the Tories bailed out private train operators, but have insisted TfL raise more income by cutting costs (jobs) and raising fares. Labour Mayor Sadiq Khan’s refusal to stand up for Londoners has already seen him sign off on above-inflation fare hikes, phasing out of over-60s free travel, and now he plans to hike council taxes to make up the shortfall.
In a ballot of over 10,000 RMT London Underground workers, 94% voted to take strike action and action short of a strike. This result was announced in the wake of London Underground Ltd (LUL) refusing to give assurances on jobs, pensions and working conditions. Mick Lynch, RMT General Secretary, said, ‘A financial crisis at LUL has been deliberately engineered by the Government to drive a cuts’ agenda which would savage jobs, services, safety and threaten the working conditions and pensions of our members.’
LU management have announced a ‘proposal’ to cut 600 stations jobs, and a ‘review’ of pension arrangements, and Khan has threatened that 100 bus routes could be cut, alongside less frequent tube services.
So the stakes are very high. Tube workers have now begun a work to rule but this may prove lengthy and ineffective. The union should escalate the action and implement the full mandate for strike action. Drivers’ union Aslef has a live ballot, so as this struggle intensifies there must be a joint union campaign which organises action to defend jobs and pensions with a clear demand on the government to fork out the money to sustain London transport.
It is vital that the RMT are not left to fight alone against the government and its billionaire media backers, who will present LU workers as overpaid trade unionists holding ‘ordinary Londoners’ to ransom. This should be countered by a public campaign to expose the Tories’ real motives, and fight for the properly funded public transport that is in all Londoners’ interests. To avoid divide and rule, Unite under new general secretary Sharon Graham should coordinate a campaign on the buses for a real pay rise, and demand the Labour Party commit to taking the entirety of London’s local transport into democratic municipal control, funded by taxing the vast profits of the City.