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The looming battle on the Underground

With Tube management seeking to force workers to work harder, for longer and for less, is it any wonder that fed-up Aslef members are likely to deliver a Yes vote for industrial action in the new year, asks MICHAEL CULHANE

BALLOT papers will be dropping through the letter boxes of Aslef members on London Underground from mid-January. 

Despite what the right-wing press will no doubt say, this is not a dispute about pay. The company has been presenting Tube drivers with a series of slides on the changes it wishes to make to conditions and pensions, and Tube drivers will no doubt reject these changes by an overwhelming margin.

There have been several presentations made so far, and two things are clear. First, the company managers are not negotiating with the trade unions. They are showing us slides of what they intend to do and then plan on imposing the changes. 

Tube drivers elect their reps to negotiate with the company, not to sit there watching PowerPoint demonstrations of how they intend to turn our lives upside down. 

Second, everything is on the table, every agreement we have, every parameter — spells of continuous driving without a break etc — every aspect of our job is up for grabs. 

The whole point of these changes is of course to make us work harder, for longer and for less. Where we start and finish work, how early and late we can start, no time for train preparation (brake tests) etc. It is hard to overstate the enormity of the changes they want to implement. 

Third, the impending attack on pensions is part of the same strategy. They want us to contribute much more and they want to contribute much less. They want us to work for longer and to get less at the end of it. 

The changes won’t just cost us a few quid a month or add a year or so onto the years we have to work. The changes will be huge and cost most individuals literally tens of thousands of pounds. All the plans someone may have for retirement will change. 

It will change how we can help our kids, how our husband/wife/partner will be cared for by the pension fund should the worst happen. 

It will mean us working into old age which increases the likelihood of having to work when we’re sick, through chronic conditions and everything else that can come with old age. 

For the company, none of this is up for negotiation. It is “consulting” us and there is no alternative. Hilariously, according to the company propaganda, this is all being done in the name of fairness and inclusion. Gaslighting is what the Americans would call it. 

Aslef is now reballoting so we can fight this. Make no mistake, a fight is coming and will be the biggest industrial dispute seen on the Underground in over 30 years. 

Previous disputes have involved a one-day strike here, a one-day strike there and then a negotiated deal that both the drivers and the company are reasonably happy with. 

This is different. This will involve protracted industrial action, two, three or four days at a time. It won’t be over quickly.

Of course, the government pretends it isn’t involved in any of this. This is between the company and the union. Nothing could be further from the truth. 

The “long-term” funding deal (which ends in early 2024!) the government forced on Transport for London after the collapse in fares caused by the pandemic linked any future funding the company received to them committing to rip up our terms and conditions and, most specifically, to “modernise” our pension. 

As in the multitude of other disputes across the country, the government is actively preventing normal industrial relations.

Whatever happens, Aslef members on the Underground will stand together and will be strong. Despite what we’re told, there is always an alternative. 

Sustained, united industrial action will bring the company to the table to take part in meaningful negotiations and stop the sham PowerPoint presentations of the management wish list.

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