Defy the injunction
A clear majority voted for industrial action over the privatisation of London Underground. The ballot produced an overwhelming 85% 'yes' vote spanning both the Aslef and RMT unions. Now the courts have imposed an injunction. The strikes were to have taken place over three successive Mondays, starting on February 5. This follows last weekend's successful national day of action called by the Socialist Alliance to demand rail renationalisation.
A clear majority voted for industrial action over the privatisation of London Underground. The ballot produced an overwhelming 85% 'yes' vote spanning both the Aslef and RMT unions. Now the courts have imposed an injunction.
The strikes were to have taken place over three successive Mondays, starting on February 5. This follows last weekend's successful national day of action called by the Socialist Alliance to demand rail renationalisation.
Throughout the day of action, January 27, SA activists collected signatures outside stations. In London SA members demonstrated outside the Euston headquarters of Railtrack. Thousands signed our petitions, supporters joined the SA and the alliance featured in media reports.
The winning of the injunction by London Underground management poses the question of politics even more concretely. We say: defy the courts, spread the strikes and give them a political programme. A national rail strike with massive public backing against a public-private partnership in the Underground, for rail renationalisation and against the anti-union laws will make the bosses think twice. If further legal countermeasures are taken, the situation must be used to open a gateway to bring other layers of the class into struggle in defence of the striking workers and for the abolition of all anti-democratic legal restrictions on the unions. This in turn must be linked up with the electoral challenge to New Labour being mounted by the Socialist Alliance.
The SA must do much more than trail behind Ken Livingstone and feed off the horror triggered by Hatfield and other disasters. Nor must we simply echo calls for a return to the golden age of British Rail and for leaving London Underground as it is.
Livingstone's alternative to the government's PPP, backed by his transport commissioner, the ex-CIA man Bob Kiley, envisages raising huge amounts of private finance while keeping central control in the hands of an appointed bureaucracy.
Moreover, though Livingstone - the consummate populist - promises to stand alongside striking tube-workers on the picket line, a deal between the London mayor and the government is still on the cards.
So the SA must emphasise in its proposals the central question of control. Our primary concern is not to take sides in the tug of war between private money and bureaucratic drip-feeding. Safety and an efficient service depend in the last analysis on workers and passengers exercising their control. The SA should be taking a lead on this, while stressing a massive extension of democracy from below throughout society.
The Alliance for Workers' Liberty, which produces a rank and file bulletin for tubeworkers, has been quite prominent in this dispute, though of course every component of the SA had urged a 'yes' vote. However, like the majority of our SA allies, the line that the AWL's Tubeworker has taken is marred by its economistic narrowness. While putting forward viable tactics to manage the strike on a purely practical level, it has not brought the issue of safety together with broader questions that deal with the state and the system of politics.
Tubeworker does make a point of backing the London Socialist Alliance, but this is not enough. The struggle must be politicised as much as possible - and we in the SA must give a clear lead.
The successful ballot of Underground workers - for legal reasons it was confined to safety, staffing and conditions - must now be backed by serious and systematic agitation to spread the strike across the whole industry. It must encompass the demand for rail renationalisation under workers' and passengers' control, and for a break from Labour and a turn to the SA.
RMT grades executive and Eastern Region Socialist Alliance