Underground Station, Photo: Rachel H / cropped from original / licensed under CC BY 2.0, linked at bottom of article Underground Station, Photo: Rachel H / cropped from original / licensed under CC BY 2.0, linked at bottom of article

The battle is on, as Aslef is balloting London tube workers to take strike action, reports Unjum Mirza

In June, Aslef sought London Underground’s “unequivocal commitment to adhering to the agreed Machinery of Negotiation and Health and Safety Machinery and to confirm that they will not impose any changes to our members terms and conditions of employment or to the Trains Framework agreement or any other agreement reached with ASLEF at any level of the machinery without the specific agreement of ASLEF.”

London Underground have refused to make any such commitments.

On Thursday 30 July, the Aslef Executive Committee met and agreed to serve “statutory notice of our intention to ballot our members with a closing date of September 17th.

And so, the battle begins.

This is the biggest fight we have faced on London Underground since the “Company Plan” 1992 when LU introduced completely new contracts, terms and conditions and working arrangements across the Combine.

Then, London Underground presented their “Company Plan” as a fait accompli and the unions failed to mount an effective strategy to resist. The result? 5,000 job losses (including 400 Drivers) and years of disarray among the unions and rank and file.

Today, London Underground, as employers everywhere, are taking full advantage of the Covid-19 crisis to undo every gain we have made through decades of struggle.

The immediate crisis has been precipitated by the terms of the Government £1.6bn bailout agreed with London Mayor Sadiq Khan.

The private Train Operating Companies have been presented an open cheque-book as billions of pounds of public money has been used to keep the mainline rail operative.

Indeed, the Office of National Statistics has confirmed that from 1st April 2020, when the current Covid-19 Emergency Measures Agreements came into force, Train Operating Companies have been reclassified onto the public sector balance sheet which would include any current debts and liabilities.

So, while the government have moved to nationalized private train operating companies’ debts, TfL were forced to go cap in hand for a bailout to sustain London’s Transport.  As the former Transport Commissioner, Mike Brown admitted TfL “was hours from having to stop the Underground and buses from running in this, the greatest city on Earth. How insane is that? How could that even be allowed to happen?”

Mike Brown continued, “The rest of the national industry, the private operators, got whatever they needed to keep going. Meanwhile, we are sitting here starving”.

The Government’s published Terms of Reference for the Funding Review couldn’t make their objectives any clearer. Highlights include:

  • Implement “workforce modernisation, and explore the feasibility of extending driverless operation”;
  • Identify “opportunities to deliver further efficiencies … in relation to operating costs”;
  • Review the “current operating model and alternative operating models …. Review of International and cross modal benchmarks in considering all of the above”.

Anyone who remains unconvinced about the scale of the battles unfolding needs reminding that the Government has also employed KPMG, one of the four big accountancy firms – otherwise known as asset strippers – to conduct the Financial Review. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s statement “Let’s not be a prisoner of the unions” was followed by the Government appointment of Andrew Gilligan on the TfL Board.

Aslef are absolutely right to ballot for industrial action.

Without a fight, there will be job losses and misery. Without resistance, the employers will extract greater productivity from the workforce. Without a strike, the Government will proceed with the Prime Minister’s plans about “unshackling from the trade unions” and driverless trains.

Yesterday we were “essential workers”. Tomorrow, we’ll be “expendable workers”.

It’s time to: Organise. Agitate. Strike!

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Unjum Mirza

Unjum Mirza is a driver on the London Underground. He is on the Editorial Board of Tunnel Vision, the rank and file bulletin, and is an Aslef union branch chair.

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