By Helen Pattison, London Socialist Party secretary
Tube workers in London are facing some of the biggest attacks in decades. The RMT union, having staved off many attacks during Boris Johnson’s time as London mayor, now faces a huge battle for their members’ pay, pensions and conditions under Labour’s Sadiq Khan.
The rotten Tory government has demanded huge cuts to Transport for London’s budget in the capital. Rather than take the fight to the Tories, Khan has chosen to carry out these cuts and oppose strike action by RMT members fighting to defend their jobs.
Having a Labour mayor has not protected transport workers from the Tory government. Instead of attacking the unions and cutting services, Khan should be mobilising the support of workers and the public to demand the funding needed from central government.
The only solution to the funding crisis is for the government to accept that self-funding of London’s public transport system can’t work. Proper funding of public transport is needed, and an end to the gravy train of public money going to shareholders of the private rail sector.
This battle is starting with two days of strike action on 1 and 3 March. But this will have to be the beginning of a determined struggle. The RMT has a huge mandate for action and is leading the way. But tube workers aren’t the only transport workers who are angry. Workers on National Rail are facing a pay freeze. Bus drivers have been let down by ‘son of a bus driver’ Khan, who failed to implement Covid safety on the buses, is planning cuts to routes, and is not standing up to attacks from the bus companies.
On Woolwich Ferry, workers have faced down victimisation, and the battle continues on issues of pay and safety. Action across the network could be posed to win the funding needed for a decent transport system in the city, which protects jobs and services.
There is also huge public anger that ticket prices are going to increase, while a reduction in services is being mooted. The pandemic has shown how fragile the network will be without sustained funding. But none of the political parties are going to fight for proper renationalisation and the funding that is needed.
The RMT has been a part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) from the start. A bold anti-austerity and trade union stand in May, can back up the important strike action workers are having to take.
10,000 tube workers vote to strike – don’t make workers pay for TfL funding crisis
28TH JANUARY 2022
By Jared Wood, London transport region representative on RMT national executive committee (personal capacity)
Transport union RMT members working for London Underground have voted overwhelmingly for strike action to defend jobs, conditions and our pensions.
RMT balloted over 10,000 members on London Underground, getting a 94% yes vote for strike action on a 52% turnout.
Members are furious that they are being told to pay for a £2 billion funding gap in Transport for London (TfL) while senior managers have just been awarded a £12 million bonus pot — rewarding them for making cuts.
The drop in passenger numbers using TfL services during the Covid pandemic has brought the funding crisis to a head. But its root cause is the policy of self-financing adopted by the Labour mayor, Sadiq Khan, at the behest of the Tory government.
No similar transport system anywhere around the world can operate without government subsidy for its operations.
Fares cover around 30% of operating costs in Paris and 47% in New York. The London Underground, just before the pandemic, was raising 134% of its operating costs in fares.
But the idea that fare revenues can keep increasing year after year is ridiculous. Passenger demand will not continue to rise forever and, even if it did, capacity cannot keep pace. In reality, passenger numbers had plateaued even before Covid became a factor.
With a sudden drop in passenger numbers during the pandemic, TfL has been left with a gap of around £2 billion between its planned spending and its income.
The government has refused to provide adequate funding to replace lost fares and has tied the limited support it has provided to further cuts and attacks on workers.
Instead of resisting, Khan has gone along with the plan. Having previously boasted that he would cut ‘wasteful spending’, now he has instructed TfL bosses to review all elements of operational spending, starting with workers’ jobs, pensions and conditions.
RMT reps and members are now considering what strike action to take as we move towards the end of the short-term funding deal with the government in February, and the announcement of management’s intended pension attacks in March.
This could be a protracted dispute as members cannot afford to accept management’s proposals. We need to take action to ensure that we force the mayor, the government and TfL bosses to think again.
Even after the pandemic, London’s big businesses make millions every day. Public transport is a key part of the infrastructure that makes that possible.
Just a small levy on City bonuses would easily clear the £2 billion funding gap. We need to change the conversation, from one about making essential transport workers pay, to outlining the need to make the super-rich elite cover the funding gap.
10,000 tube workers vote to strike over jobs, terms and pension cuts
19TH JANUARY 2022
London Underground workers on the tube have voted for strike action after bosses refused to give assurances on jobs, pensions and working conditions.
The transport union RMT has confirmed that members voted ‘yes’ for strike action and action short of a strike in a ballot of over ten thousand members across all grades of London Underground staff. 94% of members voted to strike.
The ballot took place after workers were refused assurances on jobs, pensions and working conditions in the middle of the ongoing funding crisis on London Underground and the threat of cuts by both London Mayor Sadiq Khan and the Tories.
London Underground night-tube workers have already been taking strike action over detrimental changes to their working hours, and have escalated that action this year, striking every weekend until June.
One tube worker told the Socialist last year: “The tube network has been hit financially, but management are using that as an excuse to attack us, even though they sat at home when we kept the tube running during the pandemic, risking our health. On pensions alone, it means after 30 years of shift work a tube worker can expect to retire on less than half their salary.”
The RMT says: “The ballot has now closed and the union is considering the result and what action to put on. It must never be forgotten that these are the same transport staff praised as heroes for carrying London through Covid for nearly two years, often at serious personal risk, who now have no option but to rise up and defend their livelihoods.”