Tube worker warns of more conflict to come

Tube worker and RMT rep Andy Littlechild has beaten an attempt to oust him by Transport For London (TFL), but in an interview with Freedom Newspaper has warned this is not the end of it.

Submitted by Rob Ray on November 6, 2008

Andy, who is a health and safety rep at TFL-run Metronet, was ordered off the job at 3am in the morning – with no transport home - after a four hour grilling by management earlier this year, for his refusal to wear safety equipment when it wasn’t required because the company should have made the area he was working in safe enough.

Explaining his own verdict, Andy said: “They found me guilty on all counts, put me on a year’s warning, but that was suspended the next day and I was told it wouldn’t be put on my record. They realised there was a strength of feeling.”

“All the reps and activists in Metronet, TFL and that supported me. When I was suspended I was out round the branches and I got a lot of support. Lots of people were out talking about the issues and what happened to me and getting support. In terms of (the RMT) head office, I think they did a good job, came to all the meetings – though we did keep an eye on them. The union is small, and they didn’t have people allocated to saving my job so by and large I ran my own campaign.

“While I was suspended I didn’t sit around, I got around the offices and talked to people. But I’m glad, I think that’s a better way to do it if you know what you are doing. The left was very supportive of me and I was really pleased with that – though sometimes they didn’t check with me so some of what was written wasn’t helpful. Across the RMT there’s a lot of leftists, mainly trots, as people join to get involved in the industrial activity, and they did a lot of work and were very reliable.”

He is one of three reps who taken on by bosses after several major union successes, including three successful strike actions. In one case, a man was at a Metronet depot, picketing in support of striking cleaners when he was accused of threatening behaviour. In another case, a member was accused of intimidatory behaviour in meetings. Both cases were dropped after early intervention by the RMT.

Andy believes these recent cases are not isolated, and that recent changes to the rules could see more in future: “Since Metronet went into administration that can be seen as the turning point. They started parachuting Transport for London people in, particularly Paul Tullet and a couple of safety guys, and that’s when things started to get stiff.

“We have a good organising model and we have seen that in the last three disputes which we have won. At TFL there’s a lot more division but we want to expand our model across the business. I think there’s lots of reasons why they want to knobble us. They changed the rules now to try and catch people – if you go about your union duties you have to have written permission from your supervisor, explain what you are doing etc.

"But this means management talks can’t take place, as they don’t organise them in advance and tend to do it ad hoc. So if we can’t do these meetings without permission it opens us up to disciplinary proceedings. They want to normalise industrial relations, and to do that they want to discipline people. If they think they can get away with it, they’ll do it.”

The next big fight will be over pay for 2009 – which could potentially provide the flashpoint for London mayor Boris Johnson to try and fulfil his election pledge to break the tube unions.

“The next thing coming up is the pay talks for next year, and I think it’s going to be really interesting to see how that pans out.” Andy notes, “It coincides with that of London Underground and we think they’ll be wheeling out the mantra of accepting a pay cut as the only way forward. We don’t know which way things are going to go at TFL, it’s going to need reps and activists to organise.”

Rob Ray

For more on this story:

Andy Littlechild Suspended
Solidarity thread in Libcom forums
Metronet climb down