Saturday, 11 April 2009

The fight goes on... when the law allows

On Wednesday I went to an RMT rally called to announce the results of a ballot of London Underground and Transport for London staff for industrial action against
- massive job losses
- a pay deal which amounts to a pay cut and which they would be tied to for five years, regardless of what else happens in the economy
- management bullying and victimisation of union representatives
- cleaning companies reneging on their agreement to pay London Underground cleaners the London Living Wage
- etc., etc.
The workers had voted overwhelmingly for strike action against these attacks. Despite being addressed by an excited Visteon worker (then still in occupation) the rally was as flat as a pancake. Why? Because the strike ballot had been challenged by some lawyers hired for TfL/LUL and if any strikes went ahead they could be declared illegal and the RMT union's funds sequestered and strikers penalised. The points of legal challenge were extremely spurious. Here are some typical examples explained in a leaflet distributed at Wednesday's meeting:
1. “Blackhorse road group consists of five separate stations with separate addresses.” So although we balloted all the staff the fact that we didn’t give management separate work addresses is being used as a pretext to silence your voice.

2. “At Hainault you have failed to distinguish between the station and depot which again have different addresses.” Again whilst acknowledging that everyone was balloted management are seeking any excuse allowed under the anti-union law to ban your democratic rights.
To explain, the anti-union laws require unions organising a strike ballot to provide the employer with dot and comma information as to who they have balloted. Obviously, this gives management lawyers ample scope to pick holes in any ballot, and this is what has happened here.

It would be up to a High Court judge to decide who was right or wrong in this case, but they are not known for their sympathy to trade unions. The union has decided to reballot; the union representatives have to go out and run the whole process again, momentum is lost and spirits are depressed. However, they confidently expect to get a resounding 'yes' vote to industrial action in the new ballot. What will happen if that vote is challenged? Well, if you were the RMT, what would you do in those circumstances?

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