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Tube workers' action wins concessions
The strike action taken by RMT union members last month has forced London Underground (LU) management into significant concessions. LU has been forced to acknowledge the 'no redundancy' agreements won in 2001 although they continue to try to exclude important sections of workers from this protection.
An LU worker
Also, LU was insisting on a five year pay deal that would have locked workers into real terms pay cuts for the full five years. Crucially, this would have settled the issue of pay beyond the Olympics in 2012. For obvious reasons management is nervous about the unions taking advantage of the Olympics to secure improvements in terms and conditions after successive unsatisfactory pay rounds.
As a result of the strike action LU is now proposing a two year deal with an explicit commitment to discuss arrangements for special working around the Olympics. In addition an extra half a percent has been added to the offer for each year. This is an improvement but still leaves tube workers with an increase of 1.5% this year plus RPI (likely to be zero) and 0.5% next year. When the real cost of inflation on items like fuel and food is taken into account this represents a pay cut, a fact acknowledged now by the Unite union, which is balloting its 500 members working for tube maintenance firm Metronet for action over the offer.
Pay is important for most RMT members but the key issue in this dispute is job security. When PPP (part-privatisation of infrastructure) was imposed in 2001 the unions won what became known as the 'Jobs for Life Agreement'. This specifically ruled out compulsory redundancies at any time within LU or Metronet. Before the recent strike action LU denied that this agreement existed! On the eve of the action they suddenly remembered the agreement after all. As a result the majority of RMT members retain their 'no compulsory redundancy' guarantee.
It would be wrong not to highlight how management has moved as a result of RMT's strike action. 3,000 90-day redundancy notices were sent out and LU was openly predicting around 1,000 compulsory redundancies.
Had resisting this been left to the other tube unions, Aslef and TSSA, there is no doubt that LU would have pressed ahead with redundancies on this scale. But because of the RMT's determined position, including the commitment of RMT members to strike, LU has had to use enhanced offers of voluntary redundancy and redeployment to avoid widescale compulsory redundancies. LU now claims that only 70 positions remain at risk.
However, this figure of 70 is not in writing and under LU's proposal to end the dispute there are still significant numbers of workers who have had their 'no redundancy' protection withdrawn. This is unacceptable.
The agreement made in 2001 explicitly covers all employees of LU and Metronet and all subsidiaries. The cuts that LU is making today are to admin grades and it is these sections that management say are not covered.
Allowing them to sack RMT members, against the 2001 agreement, would encourage them to change the terms again once they are ready to shed more workers.
LU management will try to undermine further action by saying that only 70 positions remain at risk and they will claim that few of them will be RMT members. RMT should challenge management in writing to list the specific posts at risk. It is important that RMT members understand the scale of potential future job losses if the 2001 agreement is not honoured in full.
Some members will not realise that many of those admin grades affected are relatively low paid RMT members and not the highly paid senior managers who always seem to fall on their feet. The union has now intensified its campaign to inform all members of the true, current position.
RMT negotiators should continue to seek written guarantees that RMT members are covered by the 2001 'no compulsory redundancy' agreement. It is crucial to demonstrate to all RMT members that every attempt has been made to resolve this dispute after the first strike but if RMT members remain under threat of redundancy the union will have to explain the need for further strike action.
In The Socialist 22 July 2009:
No Job Cuts
Youth fight for jobs
Socialist Party campaigns
Marxist analysis: history