by Vaughan Thomas, RMT London region chair (LUL)
It’s early November and the view from the 23rd floor offices of Euston Tower must be one of the best in London. Low clouds obscure the top of the adjacent Post Office Tower but the “belly of the beast” – the City of London – is clearly visible in the distance; a constant reminder of the reason we are here at ACAS, deadlocked over pay.
Even the Underground, which in recent years has tended to be insulated from the worst problems due to massive government investment, is feeling the pinch. And it’s the workers at the bottom who are being pinched hardest. This time, more than any other, it’s important that the transport unions stick together to fight management.
Productivity on the Underground has been increasing constantly for years: more passengers carried year on year with revenue exceeding expectation and staff working harder for no extra money. Twice in recent years Underground Lines have won the Railway Operator of the Year Award. But there has been no financial reward for the people on the front line – in fact this round of pay talks has resulted in an offer of just 1.5% for this year and 0.5% for next and redundancies are on the horizon.
A campaign by the RMT earlier this year prevented London Underground Ltd implementing a programme of compulsory redundancies but other trade unions on the Underground were noticeable by their absence. Aslef, “the train drivers’ union”, instructed their members to cross our picket lines though to their credit many of their members refused to do so. Nevertheless, some of their shop stewards and branch officials not only scabbed but encouraged their colleagues to scab as well. Now all unions have been invited to ACAS for last gasp talks and the RMT, locked in a separate room, are wondering whether Aslef will continue their unscrupulous, sectionalist behaviour.
Three hours into the talks and the signs aren’t good; Aslef’s sucking up to management is already paying dividends. Hilariously, their lunch consists of a sumptuous spread of baguettes, rolls, sandwiches and chocolate cake; the RMT has to make do with a tray of sandwiches and a plastic cup of grapes. Is someone, somewhere, high up in Employment Relations trying to tell us something?
The answer arrives shortly when we are informed that Aslef has already done a deal with management. Without even inviting the other unions in to the negotiating room, despite the fact that the RMT represents more than 50% of drivers on the Underground, LUL have signed off a deal with Aslef which will benefit drivers to the exclusion of other staff. The TSSA delegates are so incensed that, despite already having voted to accept the pay offer, they now walk out of the building declaring themselves in dispute. This is the first time in the history of ACAS that a trade union has arrived at Euston Tower with a deal, but left without one.
This year’s wage talks have been incredibly convoluted; the RMT submitted its comprehensive claim in November of last year which included a substantial wage increase and a guaranteed job offer for members of staff who become unfit for safety critical work. Other unions submitted less detailed claims, but historically all settlements have been across the board, for the benefit of all staff. We had no reason to think this year would be any different, but 12 months down the line the old order lies in tatters as sectionalism replaces solidarity. Aslef have stolen our clothes by achieving a guaranteed job offer – but for drivers only. “Workers of the World Unite” has been replaced by “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others” above the door at Aslef’s head office.
What now for working class solidarity on the Underground? Is Aslef, with its proud history of militancy and industrial struggle, now morally as well as financially bankrupt? Will their membership continue to decline as their surviving militants get fed up with yellow trade unionism? The RMT membership in the London Transport Region continues to grow as people realise that we are the only union prepared to fight for decent wages and conditions for all grades. Can we successfully take on and beat the Underground, the Government and Aslef?
We’ll certainly have a damned good go at it.
Watch this space…