From 7pm on the evening of Tuesday June 9th until 7pm on Thursday June 11th 2009, London Underground workers in the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union took strike action. The main issue was job security as tube bosses flatly refused to rule out compulsory redundancies, putting 4,000 jobs at risk. London Underground originally also tried to force through a five-year pay agreement which could see significant pay cuts linked to deflation. This, alongside severe management bullying, led the workers to strike.
As the strike began, the London papers really pushed the boat out using distortions and outright lies to attack the striking workers. Claims of workers demanding 5% pay increases ignored the fact that management asked the RMT to submit a pay claim in November (when inflation was higher) while Transport for London have yet to offer anything. These sleight-of-hand tricks with the facts were coupled with barefaced lies like talks stalling over two sacked drivers on the Victoria line. This entirely separate issue, though symptomatic of wider abuses of procedure on the tube, were at no point a part of the main negotiations.
Of course, the papers also failed to mention the 123 tube managers on £100,000+ salaries, plus bonuses. Or that forty minutes before the strike, an agreement had been reached which, while the documents were being typed up, was cancelled by City Hall. These facts disappeared from media view entirely.
The theme of the media coverage was one of trying to stoke resentment against the strikers. Newspaper letters pages were filled with angry comments about ‘people losing their jobs while tube staff want more money’. We’re in recession now so we all have to tighten our belts, apparently. However, this just means that workers will be asked to tighten our belts, while our bosses continue living on six-figure salaries. Tightening our belts now doesn’t mean bosses will reward this good will in the future, rather they will see it as an opportunity for further attacks.
Rather than resent the tube workers’ struggle for jobs, conditions and pay, we should see it as a source for inspiration. As the recession continues, many of us will face similar attacks as bosses try to save money while saving their own salaries. Taking action together, like workers did on the Underground, will be the only way to protect ourselves from these attacks.
China is experiencing a rising wave of industrial unrest, as workers increasingly turn to collective action to fight against their exploitation.
Rapid industrialisation over the past few decades has created massive internal migration from the countryside to the cities on an unprecedented scale, dwarfing Britain’s industrial revolution two centuries ago. Now, this new urban working class has begun to flex its muscles, disrupting production in order to assert their demands.
The academics’ union UCU at the University of Sussex cancelled industrial action planned for late June after university bosses declared they were “hopeful” they could avoid any compulsory redundancies.
It soon emerged however that compulsory redundancies had been transformed into ‘voluntary’ ones and the number of job losses remained at over 100, with a similarly severe impact on many courses and workloads expected.
One student mocked the management statement: “We are pleased to announce that the 100 have jumped, and were not pushed. The knives to their backs were unrelated.” A lecturer also commented that “I, among many, have been made ‘voluntarily’ redundant, after being selected for compulsory redundancy. The University seems to have got rid of everyone it wanted by forcing us to accept a ‘voluntary’ settlement.”
Following on from the attacks detailed in last issue of Catalyst, refuse workers in Leeds and Brighton have won significant victories defeating attempts to slash their pay under the twisted logic of ‘equal pay’.
In Leeds, following a mass meeting at which 79% of the GMB and Unison members voted to accept management’s offer, the 11 week Leeds City Council bin strike ended on 24 November 2009 when victorious bin crews and street cleaners marched back to work at Cross Green and Yeadon depots.
The workers had gone on strike on September 7, sparked by a new union-negotiated pay and grading structure agreed under the auspices of the NJC Single Status Agreement, that entailed loss of bonuses and weekend rates -leaving them facing a massive £4,500 cut to their £17,500 annual pay.
While the recent media spin is suggesting that we’re ‘on our way out of recession’, the reality on the ground is that workers are still facing attacks across sectors in the forms of job cuts and community provisions. Education has been one of the sectors worst hit in this period, with £65m slashed from higher-education (HE) budgets, schools closing left, right and centre, and jobs to go at approximately 100 of the 150 HE institutions in the UK . The situation is as bleak as ever.
Workers at Royal Mail have voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action over management plans for job cuts. 76% of workers who responded to the ballot voted in favour of industrial action. The roots of the dispute go back to the settlement that ended the 2007 national postal strike.
At the time it was announced as a victory, but in fact the CWU union agreed to management plans to cut jobs. The ‘victory’ was that the CWU and Royal Mail management would negotiate the details of the cuts at a local level. Now postal workers are unhappy with the results of those negotiations. One trigger is the Royal Mail’s refusal to “Pay for Change.” In unilaterally imposing such changes by so-called ‘executive action’, Royal Mail have reopened the dispute.
8-page leaflet looking at what we can learn from the 2007 postal strike, the 2008 public sector strike and the 2009 Visteon occupation.
The leaflet was produced for a demo against the Labour Party Conference on Sunday 27th September. It is based on several previously published articles and we try to draw the lessons of recent relevant struggles in the UK.
For Workers’ Control
Lessons of recent struggles in the UK
Recent years have seen promising signs of a working class fightback, after decades of attacks on working class living standards.