London tube workers still fighting cuts — and now balloting on pay

by Socialist Party members working on London Underground

RMT members working on the London underground have voted for the fifth time to continue the union’s mandate for strike action against attacks on jobs, pensions and conditions. The long-running dispute is a response to a massive cuts programme demanded by the Tory government, supported by the Labour Mayor of London, and implemented by an enthusiastic Transport for London (TfL) London Underground (LU) management.

£600 million of cuts remain to be found from an initial target of £1 billion. Pension attacks have been put off until October 2026 in an effort to stop strikes. But on the same day that TfL told workers the pension was safe till 2026, they wrote to the government promising to start a formal consultation by July 2024, to transfer the TfL pension into an inferior scheme.

Cockfosters RMT tube strike
Cockfosters RMT tube strike

Workers on the stations have secured significant improvements on LU managers’ plans. 200 jobs were restored and some of the other reorganisation plans that management were implementing have been shelved. Protection of earnings was enhanced, but the demand to maintain all substantive salaries on a permanent basis has not been won. Nevertheless, the feeling of station members is that an effective defensive struggle has paid off.

The attention now turns to train operators and fleet maintenance workers. Management is pushing plans to make job cuts and impose flexible working conditions to cover up the shortage of remaining staff. In addition, the pension threat and attempts to impose more draconian sickness and attendance polices continue. Members have understood the need to keep fighting.

And now that fight is opening up over pay. Unlike the national railways, RMT members on the tube had a long-term RPI-based pay agreement in place up to April 2022. No pay rise has been agreed for April 2023 yet and with an offer of only 5% on the table, which will not even be paid in full to everyone, the mood of RMT reps is to demand better.

A ballot on pay opens on 21 November and a ‘yes’ vote will allow RMT to set about securing an improved offer. The union’s demand for a minimum increase for the lower-paid grades has been ignored by management. A freeze on pay bands means some will not get the full 5% consolidated rise. Starting pay will be lower than the going rate in future. These are important issues for members as well as the basic rate of increase.

At a recent meeting of RMT reps, the mood was not to capitulate to the idea that workers must accept below-inflation pay rises. There is plenty of money for those at the top. LU senior managers have been given a £13 million bonus pot! The argument against real-terms pay cuts must be made. RMT’s pay ballot on the tube closes on 19 December. Vote ‘yes’!

This ballot is taking place as the Tories are ramping up their threats to use the minimum service levels law. We should demand that Sadiq Khan commits now to refuse to issue the work notices required to implement it, in the same way the Scottish government has done.