London Underground bosses are attempting to rip up agreements in order to cut costs. Workers must not be made to pay for the coronavirus crisis. The labour movement must fight for full funding, safe conditions, and workers’ control.

London Underground bosses are attempting to rip up agreements in order to cut costs. Workers must not be made to pay for the coronavirus crisis. The labour movement must fight for full funding, safe conditions, and workers’ control.

RMT Tube drivers plan to strike on multiple days in August in response to threats by London Underground bosses to axe the Night Tube Train Drivers’ grade, for operators who work weekend nights only.

This grade is important for operators who can only work part time, and prevents full time operators from being forced to drive through the night.

London Underground has now ripped up this agreement, which since 2016 has helped ensure healthier working practices for drivers.

Now 200 jobs – and the work-life balance of 3000 drivers – are at risk. This could affect not only the health and life expectancy of drivers, due to increased fatigue and disrupted sleep, but also the safety of passengers if drivers’ reaction times suffer.

Cost cutting

tube london

The pandemic has seen increased death rates for TfL workers. Yet this has not been a wake up call for London Underground management to improve the conditions of staff. On the contrary, it is being used by the bosses to attack drivers’ health and safety even more.

Director of London Underground’s customer operations Nick Dent has claimed that the scrapping of the grade would help “continue to provide a regular Tube service and create more flexibility for our staff”.

Furthermore, Dent has reassured workers that these changes “will not result in any job losses”, but give part-time drivers “the opportunity for full-time work and long-term job certainty”.

So by scrapping this agreement – which ensures that workers are not forced to work day and night at their bosses’ behest – apparently staff will not only keep their jobs, but will also have more full-time work and long-term job certainty, as well as more flexibility! 

In reality, bosses will prefer to employ fewer drivers who can work longer and harder, rather than pay for more drivers to work safer, more sensible hours.

London Underground workers are wise to this cost-cutting exercise, as demonstrated by the decisive vote by RMT members last month to take industrial action.

Them and us

Recently, Metroline bus drivers won a strike against “remote sign on”, another attempt by bosses to reduce safe working conditions and increase the workload.

The pandemic has provided cover for public and private sector bosses to cut costs and roll back the gains won by the labour movement. 

While the wealthiest have increased their wealth dramatically, they have sought to increase the misery of the working class even further.

Making drivers drive longer, and casualising their hours, is just some of the tactics used by the bosses to get workers to pay for the debt the government has allowed TfL to incur.

Workers’ control

The fight at Metroline – and the other successful strikes during the pandemic – show that while the capitalists are on the attack, there is no guarantee they can win. Workers, if organised and mobilised, can grind London (or any city) to a halt.

The RMT’s mobilisation to defend workers is an excellent start. Now the task for the labour movement must be to call for united and militant industrial action.

The demand of this fight must be for a fully-public transport system – run on the basis of need, rather than profit, under workers’ control – with funding restored and reductions in pay and conditions reversed.