No one was more disappointed to hear that the latest talks at ACAS had broken down than myself and the other RMT members working on London Underground. I don’t want to go on strike. I don’t want to lose pay. I don’t want to disrupt thousands of people’s commutes. But I do not have a choice. As Regional Organiser, John Leach, explained to all members in a statement today, London Underground were only willing to continue talks if we called off our dispute entirely, whilst they made no promises to save jobs or protect earnings, as well as revoking an earlier commitment to consider keeping some ticket offices open.
To me, the way a union works is simple. The clue is in the name. Whatever decisions we make – and we did decide, democratically, to take industrial action – we stand by those decisions together. If your union goes on strike, you go on strike. Simple. And you never, ever cross a picket line. That’s my view. That’s why I say that I have no choice but to strike. For me, it’s a moral obligation. Or not even that. It’s just the right thing to do and I couldn’t imagine the alternative. But of course, it is a choice and some people make the choice to work during a strike. When we’re at work, I will never hold that choice against you, but I definitely will struggle to understand it.
I’ve had conversations with people over the last couple of weeks about why they are choosing not to strike and I’ve heard the same arguments and justification time and time again. Well, these are my counter arguments to the main ones I’ve heard:
“I can’t afford to strike”
No one can afford to strike. We build our lifestyles around our incomes, so obviously losing two or three days pay a month is not ideal. Like many other RMT members, the financial loss will be doubled in my household, as my husband also works for LU and will be on strike. But it will be a short-term loss for a long-term gain. I’d rather lose a few days pay and sacrifice some luxuries, than lose my job or my pension. My first job was so poorly paid that I could only afford to eat once a day and I couldn’t even pay for a bus pass to get me to work. I couldn’t have afforded to strike. I was on a picket line this week with a colleague who is in serious debt. He can’t afford to strike, but he did. Last year, I stood on a picket line with cleaners from the Newcastle Metro. They couldn’t afford to strike, but they did, for 33 days and they won.
So my argument is, you probably can afford to strike. And if you genuinely can’t, your Branch will probably be able to help in some way. It’s worth asking before you make your decision.
“But I don’t work on stations”
Neither do I. But I’m still striking. I’m striking because this is not a stations dispute. This dispute is called Every Job Matters because it will affect every grade, in every area of the company. The money that will be saved by cutting 953 station jobs, closing all ticket offices and lowering salaries, amounts to only 6% of the total cuts being imposed. Where do you think the other 94% are coming from? Open your eyes! If they do this on the stations, they will do it where you work too. And if they get away with doing it on stations, your argument to stop them doing it in your workplace will be greatly diminished. If they cut job after job, who will be left to stand in unity with you when it’s your turn for the chop?
“I’ll be retiring soon anyway”
Well good for you! You’ll be retiring with a pension you’ve paid into your whole career – a pension I’ve been paying into since the age of 18 and will be for the next 40 odd years. But if the company cuts jobs, cuts salaries and attacks our pension, who will be left to pay in? What will be left to be paid out? Our pension is something that unites people from all grades. It is something the union has fought hard for, something we have all worked for, but if nothing is going in, nothing can come back out. So if you’re retiring soon or not, you will still be effected.
“Even if we strike, the cuts will still go ahead”
That’s possible. But as Bob Crow said, ‘If you fight you may lose, if you don’t fight you will lose’. The only way that we will win this dispute is with solid, strong and fully supported action. This entire dispute is political, whether you care about politics or not. These cuts have been imposed by the Tory government, to be implemented by a Tory Mayor, who was only elected because of the lies he told about keeping ticket offices open. It’s obvious that no business can stay exactly the same forever. Things evolves, thing grow, but at what cost? Surely it is clear to anyone that cutting almost 1000 jobs is not ‘modernisation’, it’s madness.
I know that people are scared about their futures and their job security. I am. But it is my belief that London Underground know this and are using it against us. I’m scared of a lot of things. But I try to live by the rule of ‘if it scares you, do it anyway’. There is an alternative to these cuts, which despite the propaganda you may have read, RMT has proposed to London Underground. I know it is not easy to fight, I know it is not easy to defend yourself, or others. But with a union, you are never alone.
Don’t lose faith. I’ll see you on the picket lines.