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RMT: strike forces management climb-down

The prospect of a second two-day strike was enough to force London Underground (LU) to back down. Previously, they had intended to impose their “Fit for the Future” plan to close all ticket offices and cut nearly 1,000 jobs, without even the pretence of negotiation with the unions.

All the same, this is only a change of tactics by LU, and for the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) to claim “victory” is dangerously misleading. Worse, General Secretary Bob Crow made it clear that, for the union leadership, the purpose of the strikes was not to force the tube managers to drop the plan, but only to “look again in detail at all of the concerns we have raised about the impact of the cuts on our members and the services that they provide to Londoners”.

The following day Crow made his priorities even clearer:

“There’s nothing unusual about job losses. They happen from time to time with all types of different industries that we deal with as well. It’s the nature of how you handle it.”

In other words, the bottom line for the union’s leadership is defence of its role as a negotiator, not the defence of all its members’ jobs.

Lost momentum

Agreeing to seven weeks of detailed, station-by-station talks is ultimately a very minor concession. Management may even conclude that a few of the very busiest stations do need ticket offices but, meanwhile, all their preparations for the implementation of “Fit for the Future” will carry on in the background.

The ultimate threat of driverless trains has not been derailed in the slightest.

In return for this, the RMT has lost all the momentum from the two-day strike at the beginning of February that clearly had a much greater impact than management had expected. In particular, the hoped-for public hostility to the strike did not materialize. Even the ever-loyal BBC found it difficult to find “angry commuters” willing to side with LU and Mayor Boris Johnson.

Seven weeks of meetings with management allows them redouble their efforts to train scabs and prepare “public opinion”. It effectively leaves union members in the dark, wondering if there will be a serious fight. Inevitably some will think the changes are unavoidable and that they would do better to take voluntary redundancy.

Nor is there any guarantee that seven weeks will be enough to complete negotiations. In an interim report, Bob Crow explained, “a station by station review of ticket offices is being undertaken, but it is doubtful whether the seven weeks will prove sufficient to fully enable this.”

He also indicated a possible basis for a compromise:

“The company has gone as far to accept that the existing grading structure can facilitate the introduction of new technology.”

Although the same report says, “the seven weeks of talks should not be considered as some kind of rest or “cooling off” period”, it also makes clear that the trigger for further strike action will not be job losses, but “any further attempt to impose change from above”.

No job cuts

Fears that LU has a strategy to break the unions are not a conspiracy theory. The attempt to impose “Fit for the Future” shows what management wants. As we go to press, reports that they are about to commission driverless trains shows the scale of their plans.

Measured against that, suspending strike action in return for “talks” is dangerous mis-leadership. To regain the initiative and mobilise all LU workers, whether they are members of RMT, ASLEF (which scabbed on the February strike), or TSSA, militants must organise themselves independently to insist that strike action will be resumed unless any threat to jobs is dropped.

 

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