More strikes

The NewsSimon FellComment

Members of the Aslef union have announced an additional 24 hour strike from 9.30pm on Wednesday 5 August. 

At time of writing, the RMT, TSSA, and Unite unions have yet to declare whether they will consider joining in a repeat of the strike which effectively shuttered the Tube recently (for those who want to relive the chaos, The Guardian has an excellent summary of the strike on its website).

UPDATE: All four unions have now confirmed that they intend to take part in the strike.

The unions have concerns over the plans for the Night Tube and the impact that this will have on extra night and weekend shifts for employees. Beyond that, grievances remain over pay, conditions and plans for ticket office closures.

During the General Election the Conservatives pledged to introduce a new Trade Union Bill which would, in the words of the Business Secretary, ensure “that strikes only happen when a clear majority of those entitled to vote have done so and all other possibilities have been explored."  Now in power, the government has indicated that it plans to move quickly on this issue.

The Bill would also require more notice of strikes from unions; make secondary picketing a criminal offence; empower employees to take on agency staff during disputes; give protections to non-striking union members; insist on greater clarity in the wording of disputes on ballot papers, and limit the time that public sector workers can spend on trade union duties.

The government has tied the Bill’s introduction directly to the recent Tube strike. There is a bigger game being played here. The last strike, and the upcoming one, are not just about London and Tube workers, but also union power and their ability to represent their members. It is our great misfortune that this battle is being played out on London’s transport network.

It's worth noting that The Times recently reported that: 

Unite, which has nearly 1.5 million members, has passed a motion to remove a caveat from its rule book requiring protests to remain within the law. The union’s objectives will no longer be predicated with the phrase “so far as may be lawful”.

There's a game of chicken being played here and the government will, no doubt, act in response. At the very least, it will seek to use this change to justify its actions.

There are real issues at play over the future of the Tube and the pay and conditions of the workers who help make the service what it is. Those concerns are separate to the bigger battle between a Conservative government and the unions. It would be naïve to not recognise that they are deeply intertwined but at the same time, for London's sake, we hope that they can be considered independently.

A fair result for both sides would be for the current talks at Acas to yield real results and for the strikes to be cancelled as a consequence. It would demonstrate that the system can work if the motivation is there and save all of us another 24 hours of hassle. The risk of the next strike going ahead is a landscape forever changed, and perhaps not for the better.