Staion closed during tube strike, October 2010 Tube strike, October 2010. Photo: CGP Grey / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0, author website and licence linekd at bottom of article

Members of Aslef working on the tube have voted by a huge margin for strike action to defend jobs, terms and conditions and pensions, reports Unjum Mirza

The Aslef train drivers’ union membership have just returned a stunning 95.2% Yes vote in their strike ballot to defend jobs, terms and conditions and pensions.

A leaked copy of management’s conference call on the eve of the ballot (21 August) explained: “This strike affects us all… this is where it will take the collective power of all of us to influence the outcome of this ballot”. But management’s blatant meddling in the democratic processes of the union backfired as the workforce demonstrated its collective will to strike.

Others argued the strike ballot “was too early”; “we should wait for the KPMG Report”; “the workers aren’t ready”; “the workers don’t know why you’re balloting” and even “it’s reckless”. Each and every one of those voices have been silenced now the workforce has spoken for itself.

The immediate background to the dispute is the Transport for London (TfL) funding crisis brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic. Last May, following the early weeks of the pandemic and the collapse in passenger numbers, TfL was forced to approach central government for a bailout. London Mayor Sadiq Khan secured £1.6bn to keep services running until the end of September but only after bowing to government pressure and a whole host of strings that included a full review TfL’s finances.

In July, the government employed KPMG to review TfL’s finances and last week they presented the Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps with their findings. This report remains under wraps with only a handful of TfL top bods getting limited sight of the document for the purposes of verifying and correcting factual details of information they themselves provided to KPMG.

What we know is that the money runs out mid-October. London Underground however wish to achieve a financial settlement at the end of September to avoid a repeat of the last-minute crisis faced in May. The government and Dominic Cummings however probably quite like the idea of a last-minute crisis as strengthening their hand. London Underground want £6.2 billion and believe they can offer enough strings to secure the package. Those strings are our jobs, terms and conditions, agreements and pensions.

The government are not against any such package – they just want more! Only last week, the London Assembly Tories tabled a motion calling for the withdrawal of staff nominee travel passes. The motion was defeated. But it offers a demonstration of the depth of hatred the Tories hold for workers, trade unions and tube workers in particular.

This is why Aslef’s ballot result is so important. The idea that the workers should sit back as mere passive spectators while politicians and bosses decide upon our lives, our livelihoods and our futures is totally anathema to us. Aslef were right to ballot. Aslef members were right to return a massive yes for strike action.

The Prime Minister will no doubt say: ‘£6.2 billion is a lot of money and it’s only reasonable that we expect something in return’. But then workers might say, ‘£100 billion for Moonshite to line your mates’ pockets while the country is situated on a knife edge as the coronavirus rate of infection increases alarmingly as do hospital admissions and the test and trace regime is exposed as a farce, is a lot more money and you ought to resign you F*****’

The Aslef ballot result alone has already upset the apple-cart. The workers have entered the field as an independent player. We will now proceed to defend every gain we have made over the decades in the very way we won them in the first place: collective struggle including strike action.

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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.