Dead Men Left

Friday, December 30, 2005

Hurrah for the RMT

London tubeworkers are threatening to go on strike tomorrow evening.

First up, I live in London. If there's no tubes running, it will have a direct impact on my evening. (Just to make that clear.)

But there's not a chance in hell I'm going to line up with the predictable furore about "greedy unions" and "£30,000 a year" and "35-hour weeks" and all the rest of it. Nor can I stand the equally tiresome claims that yes, of course we support the right to strike... but not at New Year! Have these people no shame? It's funny; these people support the right to strike, except when it's actually used.

This strike's not about money, or some perverse desire to "spoil a great night out" on the union's part. It's about Transport for London wanting to break arrangements it had previously made over rostering. The RMT claims this will reduce safety on the tube.

Now, as a reasonably regular tube passenger, frankly I'd place the drivers and station staff of the RMT in a better position to make judgements about my safety than employers prepared to sign up and contract out repair work to notorious cowboys like Jarvis. If a strike's necessary to defend my safety on the tube, so be it.

There's a wider issue, however. Tube drivers are better-paid than others because they have a strong, well-organised union. Breaking that union won't suddenly mean, say, nurses getting paid more; quite the opposite.

Weakening the most powerful and best-organised elements of the working class makes grinding away at the rest of the workforce so much easier. The only way lower-paid workers will improve their lot is through organisation. Anything that undermines their attempts at organisation weakens their ability to win better pay and conditions.

Historically, unionisation amongst lower-paid and previously unorganised workers has tended to follow the better-organised and better-paid workers. Successful strikes provide an excellent example for others; moreover, the support of the better-organised can be vital in defending the weaker sections - the solidarity between baggage handlers and food-packers in the recent Gate Gourmet dispute was an excellent example of this.

With that in mind, I wish a happy new year to Bob Crow and the RMT. I hope many more will follow their lead over the coming 12 months.

(Also at the Sharpener.)