Saving Tube Jobs

This article is taken from the September 2011 issue of RMT News, page 16

EC member Janine Booth outlines six successful union campaigns to reverse unfair sackings from different grades and in different companies

Docklands Light Railway Sacked Passenger Service Agents Ian Peavot and Julian Harper for comments they posted on Facebook. DLR staff, nearly all of whom are RMT members, also had other grievances against the company, and when talks made little progress, voted overwhelmingly for industrial action.

RMT reps decided on a 48- hour strike, and while lawyers wrangled about its legality, the branch kept campaigning and negotiating. Management backed down, reinstated Ian and Julian, and resolved the other issues too. Meanwhile, RMT and TSSA members on London Underground were fighting job cuts, and the company took hostages.

LU sacked Bakerloo line driver Eamonn Lynch for following a mistaken instruction; Northern line driver Arwyn Thomas following allegations by strike-breakers, and Knightsbridge ticket seller Peter Hartshorn for allegedly swearing at a manager. All three were RMT representatives. RMT represented all three, started legal action and took the campaign into the workplaces.

Arwyn’s branch, Morden and Oval, held special meetings and issued leaflets countering management’s spin. Bakerloo branch produced newsletters, petitions and badges demanding Eamonn’s reinstatement. Peter’s branch, Finsbury Park, made sure that everyone knew about his case.

LU upheld Eamonn’s and Arwyn’s sackings on appeal. The union held one-day strikes on their lines, solidly supported by RMT members and Aslef workmates. Interim Employment Tribunals ruled that LU had sacked both reps unfairly because of their trade union activities. Peter’s case went to appeal, where he was represented by former RMT president John Leach. LU knew that if it upheld Peter’s sacking, it would face a strike on the Piccadilly line, and risked a hat-trick of Tribunal defeats.

The appeal reinstated Peter. After another one-day strike on Eamonn’s and Arwyn’s lines, it became clear that this was an issue for RMT across the combine. At a meeting of nearly 100 RMT members in February, I recommended that we escalate to a strike of all drivers. The meeting backed this call, and RMT’s executive authorised the ballot. Arwyn’s representative, regional organiser Steve Hedley worked hard in building the campaign.

The Regional Council circulated information and produced stickers. Our train grades committee of drivers’ reps acted as a strike committee, organising ‘walkabouts’ to depots, ensuring that every driver knew about the issue. Train grades secretary Dean O’Hanlon wrote to all drivers urging a Yes vote. Bakerloo branch secretary Brian Munro explains that it was the turning point. “The will and commitment of the train grades committee took the issue to every depot and the ballot returned a convincing vote for strikes,” he said. The train grades committee discussed what action would work best and settled on two sets of 48-hour strikes spread over a week each.

The first strikes, in May, came just as Eamonn won his full Tribunal, the LibDems were hammered in the elections and thousands of people sent emails to Boris Johnson from the LabourStart website. Under this pressure, LU agreed to reinstate Eamonn to a station job but keeping his driver’s salary. But, despite indicating it would also re-hire Arwyn, LU tried to buy him off with a cash offer instead. Arwyn knew that this would put a price on every RMT rep and refused the money. RMT put the strikes back on, agreeing dispute payments for strikers, and using the same pattern of 48-hours over a week to co-ordinate with the public sector strike on June 30 but keep our dispute’s own identity.

Arwyn won his tribunal, and RMT came under pressure to call off the strikes. But the strikes stayed on until LU agreed the terms of Arwyn’s return to work.

We had won.

Meanwhile, LU had sacked another driver, Tunde Umanah. Adrian Finney, Chair of Tunde’s branch, Stratford no.1, reports that: ‘After intensive campaigning by local reps, we held a meeting with our biggest attendance for years. “All the drivers present, including Aslef members, made clear that they supported Tunde, were up for the fight, and that the manager involved in the case was held in contempt. This meeting, and the threat of strikes, led to Tunde’s reinstatement.” he said. What can we learn from these six successes? No campaign is flawless, and these had their shaky moments, but there are some key themes. RMT provided top-class representation and legal support for our sacked members. But Eamonn Lynch believes that the Julian Harper dispute was won, ultimately, because “we kept the campaign live, vibrant, and the talk of the depots and canteens”.

We were willing to strike and to escalate action.

We learned from previous defeats that one- day strikes were not enough to win.

The patterns and dates of strikes were planned by workplace reps. As Eamonn says, “When tough decisions were required, they were discussed, agreed and “Union officials listened to the members and relayed this to the relevant grades committees,” he said. DLR branch secretary Darren Arnold is proud that branch reps played their part with members supporting members and grade supporting grade. “The reinstatement of Ian and Julian showed what negotiation with a strong union can achieve,” he said. The last word goes to Julian Harper: “I am thankful that the company reversed their decision and I feel that this would not have been possible without the support of all my colleagues at work, and RMT fighting my case”.

SOLIDARITY: Bakerloo branch secretary Brian Munro received a customer service award at City Hall and took the opportunity to show his support for sacked driver Eamonn Lynch

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