by Daphne Liddle
TRANSPORT unions RMT and TSSA last Tuesday suspended planned strike action by London Underground (LU) workers just a few hours before a second 48-hour Tube strike was about to begin.
The first strike worked; it force LU management to suspend drastic changes that would cut nearly 1,000 jobs and close all ticket offices to allow for a negotiation process with the unions at Acas (the advisory, conciliation and arbitration service).
The proposed changes have not been defeated but forcing the management, backed by London Mayor Boris Johnson, to delay the changes to allow the negotiations to take place is a significant victory for the unions.
It is a total rebuttal of Johnson’s high-handed approach and leaves him humiliated after his constant refusal to meet and talk with the unions.
Labour north London MP Emily Thornberry challenged the Mayor on the BBC’s Sunday Politics London show, saying: “How mad is it that you haven’t spoken to [Bob Crow] for five years? He has to call you up on LBC to talk to you. It’s not right.
“It’s nonsense why the leader of London is not talking to the leader of the Underground union.
“It’s just the most ridiculous bit of willy-waving I’ve seen. It’s just macho nonsense not to talk to the leader of the union.”
The result of the negotiations at Acas will probably be a compromise but it is a lot better than just giving into change by diktat.
RMT General Secretary Bob Crow said: “After two days of intensive and detailed discussions through the offices of Acas we have now received proposals that halt the implementation of the job cuts set out in the HR1 document which gives us the opportunity to discuss all of the issues away from the pressure cooker.
“We now have a golden opportunity to look again in detail at all of the concerns we have raised about the impact of the cuts on our members and the services that they provide to Londoners. That is exactly what we have been calling for throughout this dispute.
“RMT is happy to discuss any issues with LU through the machinery of negotiation and we are glad that we have now got back to where we should have been right at the start of this process.
“It is unfortunate that we were forced and provoked into a dispute that we never wanted and we are now in a position to move on with the clear understanding that our action is suspended but if there is any further attempt to impose change from above the action will go back on.”
A statement from Acas read: “We welcome the news that the proposed industrial action has been withdrawn. Thanks all involved for their hard work/commitment over intensive talks with us.”
TSSA posted on Twitter: “We’ve suspended Tube strike as have agreed a process where all our serious concerns over safety and job losses can be addressed. Pleased that agreement on process lets us suspend strike immediately and cancel it later when agreement reaches us formally.”
In a letter to RMT members Bob Crow said that:
- LU had agreed a station- by-station review of ticket office closures, which could mean that some will stay open;
- LU will not implement its proposals until further consultations are held on 4th April;
- During the discussion period, LU will put on hold all voluntary severance applications received.
He said the negotiations would include a full equality impact assessment of the proposed changes.
Crow added: “This is what we were asking for all along and thanks to the support and solidarity you have shown, sense has finally prevailed. Nevertheless we remain firmly against these cuts which we will continue to resist in our discussions with management. I will be sure to keep members fully informed of any further developments.”
And he told reporters he had no regrets about the strike: “They weren’t taking us seriously until we called the strike action and we got more done over that period of time when the strike action took place,” he said. “I think having a two-day strike was absolutely crucial.”
One union official was arrested during the strike for calling a strike-breaker a scab. Mark Harding, the Branch Secretary of Hammersmith and City RMT was ordered to keep away from further strike action until the case is settled.The union is calling for the charges to be dropped and accused the police of making the arrest in order to intimidate other strikers.