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Year 2001 No. 22, February 6, 2001 Archive Search Home Page

London Tube Workers Strike

Workers' Daily Internet Edition : Article Index :

London Tube Workers Strike

News In Brief
Warning of Council Workers Job Losses
Strike Threat over "Railtrack of Skies"

The Future Will Be Socialist or There Will Be No Future

International News
Ecuador: Ecuador under a State of Emergency
The Occupied Territories: Women for a Just Peace Demonstrate against "Closure"

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London Tube Workers Strike

Drivers on the London Underground went on strike yesterday.

They decided to go ahead despite the agreement last Friday between the government and Bob Kiley, Commissioner of Transport for London, on modifications to the government's public-private partnership (PPP) initiative, which proposes breaking the system into four principal segments. Under the new deal, Bob Kiley will be given full access to the PPP proposals with the scope to introduce a unified management structure with overall control of the operation.

ASLEF (Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen) voted to take strike action amid concerns over PPP, particularly fears that it would jeopardise safety. But although ASLEF welcomed the deal, it said it did not alter the reasons for taking action.

``The situation remains unchanged. The agreement is very welcome but it doesn't directly address our industrial concerns,'' Andrew Murray, spokesman for ASLEF, said.

London Underground was granted an injunction in the High Court last Wednesday, stopping members of the RMT (Rail, Maritime and Transport) union taking part in the action.

Mr Justice Gibbs, sitting in London, ruled the union's ballot and strike notices were "defective".

Despite the injunction, Tube workers in the RMT did not report for work and joined the picket lines.

The Tube workers explain that safety fears are behind the strike. Standards have fallen since the Tube was split into four in readiness for the government's proposed PPP and there is the fear that private companies will put profit before safety. Driver training has slipped and some trains are still operating without the "dead man's handle" – the automatic brake – being improved. The workers want a new body to be set up with equal say between union representatives and LU managers, to oversee safety.

Job security is also an issue. The Tube workers are also demanding a no-compulsory redundancy clause, saying that staff numbers should not drop below current levels and private contractors should not be used.

Public safety and job security are not contradictory motives, as some critics have tried to make out. Both struggles are entirely just in themselves, and are also linked by the nature of the PPP initiative, in which private finance will try to get the maximum return on their capital. Furthermore, a victory for the Tube workers must be regarded as a victory for the whole working class, and in their concern for safety a victory for the travelling public also.

ASLEF general secretary Mick Rix said of the strike: "It shows LU that we are willing to take action over safety and that we have the industrial muscle to shut down the Underground whenever we have concerns over safety." He said: "We are confident the public understands it's a question of inconvenience today, safety in the future."

The dispute today moves to the conciliation service ACAS. On Wednesday, there are plans to bring Transport Commissioner Bob Kiley and strike union leaders together in continuing attempts to avert two more strikes scheduled for February 12 and 19.

In a Carlton television programme to be screened tonight, the London Mayor, Ken Livingstone, says: "I am certain Bob Kiley will give ASLEF a guarantee he will never compromise safety. Once they've got that I am certain we will see the end of the strikes. Bob Kiley ran the New York subway without once having industrial action. People know that he is tough but that you can trust what he says." The London Mayor continues his attack on London Underground management who he has described as "dullards" and "knuckle-headed". He says that LU's High Court action which successfully prevented the RMT, largest of the rail unions, from joining in yesterday's strike "escalated the whole thing".

Article Index

News In Brief

Warning of Council Workers Job Losses

More than 4,000 council workers' jobs will be lost in the North East region alone under the government's reform of public services.

This was the warning of UNISON at its regional headquarters in Newcastle on Monday as it launched a national campaign condemning the "Best Value" policy for local authorities.

A report commissioned by UNISON and written by Newcastle University lecturer Dr Andy Pike predicts 4,495 town hall jobs will be lost and 13,765 council workers will be transferred to private or voluntary sector employers in the region if the policy continues.

The government rules under "Best Value" will force local authorities to contract out almost all their services with thousands of staff facing massive cuts in pay and conditions.

UNISON members will lobby Parliament in a meeting with the Labour Party's Northern Group of MPs on Wednesday.

Strike Threat over "Railtrack of Skies"

Air traffic controllers have raised the prospect of strike action over government proposals to privatise the service.

Delegates at a conference of the controllers' union proposed to vote for industrial action if ministers refuse to consider alternatives.

The IPMS (Institution of Professionals, Managers and Specialists) has campaigned hard against the planned public-private partnership for NATS, the National Air Traffic Services.

Speaking from the IPMS Conference in Stockport, Greater Manchester, Iain Findlay, national officer, said the vote was to protest against government proposals to sell off 51% of NATS.

After hearing of the vote, a spokesperson of the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions said: "The public-private partnership goes ahead. Demand for air travel is going ahead in leaps and bounds by about 4% a year. We need investment in new technology to deal with this and the Government believes this is the best way to get the money to fund that. In that way we will ensure safety."

On January 31, the government confirmed bids from the three groups invited to submit final offers for a stake in NATS had been received. According to the plans, the scheme would give a 46% stake to a strategic private sector partner, with 5% allocated to NATS staff and a 49% share kept by the Government.

Iain Findlay said representatives would try to convince ministers to reverse their decision at a meeting on Wednesday. He said: "What we have decided is that if the government does not change its plans or does not do something that satisfies air traffic controllers, we will put a ballot out for industrial action. The action can vary from small issues to, of course, strike action. The government says there is no other way, but we believe there is another way, and that is a not-for-profit company that will actually get all the investment needed. Otherwise, we are looking at a Railtrack of the skies."

Article Index

The Future Will Be Socialist or There Will Be No Future

When Cuban Parliament President Ricardo Alarcon spoke before a crowd of thousands of delegates to the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, he proclaimed has that the future will be socialist or there simply will be no future. The leader of the Cuban Parliament affirmed that Cuba would continue to work for a globalisation of solidarity and human values. And Ricardo Alarcon stated that Havana will use every opportunity in international forums to denounce the lies of neo-liberal economic theories.

Calling neo-liberal globalisation the imposition of Washington's economic theories on the rest of the world, the Cuban Parliament president said that US imperialism is trying to take over the economies of all nations. Alarcon characterised neo-liberalism as the beginning of the end of representative democracy, stating that the wealthy only see consumers and not citizens. The head of Cuba's Parliament noted that in countries dominated by neo-liberal economics, political participation is at an all time low. He said that people don't elect their so-called representatives in those countries, only money does.

Ricardo Alarcon also mentioned the sad situation of millions of immigrants, legal or undocumented, who are forced to search for better economic opportunities in the wealthy, industrialised countries. And he warned of an increase in human trafficking, especially of women and children.

Concerning the planet's future, the president of Cuba's Parliament told delegates that a new world order must and would be socialist. Alarcon said that civilisation itself would disappear if we were unable to overthrow imperialism and open the way toward more humane and sustainable development models. He predicted that the socialism of the future would be diverse and multicoloured, and not come from the imposition of dogmatic theories. And Ricardo Alarcon concluded by saying that "socialism is the perfection of democracy and the realisation of humanity's dreams".

Article Index

International News


Ecuador under a State of Emergency

On the morning of Saturday, February 3, Ecuador woke up under a State of Emergency. Under this arrangement, freedom of association has been suspended, private homes can be invaded, and citizens can be detained without warning.

The State of Emergency, under the Law of National Security, declared on Friday night by the government of Gustavo Noboa, is the latest step in a series of acts of violence and repression undertaken over the past week.

This latest step by the government is aimed at punishing the indigenous people, who have demanded an end to the violence and a repeal of economic policies which have brought the country to the brink of destruction. The economic policies include, among other things, the construction of a new oil pipeline, the spurring along of the mining industry, privatisation of the water supply, an increase in taxes, the return of kerosene as a fuel for home use, and an increase in bus fares. The rising of the indigenous peoples has included the blockading of the nations highways and a march of 10,000 from the countryside in the capital, Quito. Currently 6,000 indigenous activists are concentrated inside the Universidad Politecnica Salesiana, surrounded and constantly attacked by the police every time they try to march from the university campus. In the face of this situation, and the refusal of the government to enter into a dialogue, 50 activists from the indigenous and peasant communities, who grow and provide the country’s food, have decided to launch a hunger strike, as a way of being heard. Every hour, 50 more indigenous people will join the hunger strike.

The business sector of the country has supported the violence and repression out of fear that they will lose export business. At this time, a delegation of the International Monetary Fund is also in Ecuador evaluating the impact of its economic policies. These neo-liberal economic policies and the adjustment policy of the government has caused inflation to rocket, speculation has become rife and welfare programmes cut.

On Monday, February 5, talks were reopened between the government and the indigenous peoples, after the mediation of the Church and other institutions. However, Noboa has refused to meet the leadership of the indigenous peoples. Farmers and the indigenous population, who are on the front line of the popular uprising, have repeated their pledge to the talks. But they have also confirmed that they will not give up their struggle as a precondition.

Article Index

The Occupied Territories:

Women for a Just Peace Demonstrate against "Closure"

A demonstration against the cruel "closure" that Israel has imposed on the Occupied Territories was organised at the weekend by the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace. About 500 women were there from all over Israel. They dressed in black and donned black "sandwich boards" with the word "Closure" painted in white in three languages (Hebrew, Arabic and English). The women massed outside the entrance gate to Israel's "pentagon", the Defence Ministry in Tel-Aviv.

Gila Svirsky, a member of the Coalition writes:

"At the signal, a group of women started to cross the street very slowly, with the intention of slowing traffic through this busy artery. But when the spirit moves you, you respond: A group of women suddenly sat down on the road in a line clear across the street and completely blocked all passage of cars. Within moments, a larger group of women thickened the line, and stood with their placards facing the cars -- a solid block of ‘Closure’ signs preventing the drivers from advancing. For us, this was a small representation of what the Palestinians experience every day – being blocked entry and exit from their towns and villages.

"The sight was so dramatic – some women were sitting across the road, others were standing behind them with arms linked, the closure signs forming a solid black message clear across the road. We started to chant a very powerful set of slogans. Here's the translation, though in Hebrew it rhymes and is very strong:

End the closure in the territories -
Get out of their bloodstream.
End the closure in the territories -
Give jobs to the workers.
End the closure in the territories -
Give food to the children.

"It was amazing to be part of this powerful line, and to have brought this busy road to a complete standstill.

"Then the police drove up, shrieking up with sirens. They didn't waste time asking for co-operation -- they just ploughed in and grabbed, dragging women to the sides, and wading in for more. Some women returned to the road as soon as the police let them go, but there were car drivers who took their cues from the police, and tried to use their cars to plough us off the road. I stood facing a car with my sign, and the driver first hit me (gently), then kept moving forward on me. I was not violent, but I wouldn't step to the side. The police dragged some of us off the street many times, but we returned again and again until they suddenly realised this, and began to throw us into paddy wagons. All this was done with, shall I say, excessive force. My body feels bruised all over, and I'm not the only one.

"After the police had taken away two carloads, women returned to the road and again sat down and blocked traffic. It was wonderful how they were not intimidated by the previous brutality. They continued for quite a long time, until an hour or so had been spent illustrating for Tel-Aviv drivers the tip of the iceberg of what it means to have a closure imposed on you. We did not, of course, demonstrate how it feels to be cut off from access to medical care, jobs, schools, and family. That they will have to imagine.

"At the police station, we were first 12 women and four men, who came to the demonstration. Then they arrested the lawyer who showed up to represent us! The interrogations were civil, though they charged us with everything they could think of – participating in an illegal demonstration, disturbing the peace, blocking traffic, resisting arrest, attacking a police officer, and even (in my case) attacking a car (poor car!). Two of us (including me) admitted to the acts of civil disobedience (though not to the accusations of violence), and the rest took advantage of their right to remain silent. Gradually, until about 1 a.m., they released everybody after bail was posted. Many, many thanks to our sister demonstrators who waited for us the whole time at the station, drove to the airport to find an open post office to post bail, and met us with food and soft drinks when we came out. And thanks to tireless Knesset Member Tamar Gozansky, who came to the station for a solidarity visit. And big, big thanks to Leah Tsemel, human rights lawyer extraordinaire, who stayed with us to the bitter end negotiating with the police for our release, brought enough cash to front bail for everyone, and gave her professional services completely pro bono as her contribution to the cause."

The demands of the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace:

·  An end to the occupation.

·  The full involvement of women in negotiations for peace.

·  Establishment of the state of Palestine side by side with the state of Israel based on the 1967 borders.

·  Recognition of Jerusalem as the shared capital of two states.

·  Israel must recognise its responsibility for the results of the 1948 war, and find a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem.

·  Equality, inclusion and justice for Palestinian citizens of Israel.

·  Opposition to the militarism that permeates Israeli society.

·  Equal rights for women and for all residents of Israel.

·  Social and economic justice for Israel’s citizens, and integration in the region.

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