What do the RMT and NEU strikes have in common with the UCU? Not a lot, unfortunately.

a picture of a trade union rally with RMT leader Mick Lynch, UCU leader Jo Grady and NEU leader Mary Bousted
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Two trade unions have announced further strikes, as a third stages walkouts across England and Wales. These are from the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT), the University and College Union (UCU), and the National Education Union (NEU). However, while two unions’ actions are an escalation, the other’s appears to be trying to cover its own mistakes. It shows that far from being a united movement, trade unions in the UK have a difficult disparity between them.

RMT: walkouts on the Underground

The RMT has said that its members on the London Underground will strike on 15 March. As the Canary previously reported, Transport for London (TfL) is attacking tube workers’ pay and conditions. This is because its revenue collapsed during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. Then, the Tory government gave it some cash – but the money came with conditions. The RMT says that the government and TfL will force through:

  • 600 job losses.
  • A worsening of the work-life balance for staff, with managers being empowered to make shift changes at the last minute.
  • Around a 30% cut in people’s pensions.

If TfL doesn’t do this, the Tories will cut its funding. However, the RMT says the company should not cave in to government demands. It previously said:

The Mayor and TfL should stand firmly with their workers, the people who kept London’s transport services moving during the pandemic. Instead, they are allowing London Underground managers to cut jobs and undermine employment conditions on the Tube and they continue to indulge the government’s spiteful raid on the TfL pension scheme.

So, it has been left with no choice but to strike. The action comes after the government and TfL delayed making a decision about pensions specifically until 17 March. RMT London Underground workers will join their colleagues in the rail sector, who are walking out during March and April as well.

Meanwhile, another union has announced a further strike date. However, this one is not quite as it seems.

UCU: to strike or not to strike?

The UCU has been behaving rather oddly of late. First, and as the Canary previously reported, it paused its strikes at universities in February and the first two days of March. The UCU claimed this was due to “significant progress” in talks over pay and pensions with university bosses. General secretary Jo Grady further said the pausing of strikes was to:

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enable us to hold intensive negotiations with the aim of delivering a final agreement

However, this hasn’t panned out. Instead, national university bosses have decided to impose their pay offer without UCU agreement. As the union wrote:

the employer chose to put out their pay offer and make it clear that it is final and that universities can implement the initial element of that pay offer. We need to be absolutely crystal clear, this is not a pay offer that has been agreed with us as a union, or any of the other unions involved in the negotiations.

The UCU claimed it has made progress in other areas. However, the union caving over strikes leading to bosses taking the piss was always going to end badly. As lecturer Philip Proudfoot tweeted:

So, the UCU has made an about-face and will be striking during March as previously planned, plus on an additional date of 15 March.

Trusting capitalists is a fool’s game

Meanwhile, the UCU’s counterparts in the NEU also tabled a similar plan – that it would call off strikes if the government made a “serious” pay offer to it. However, it wasn’t caught napping. The government failed to make an offer. So, the strikes are still on. NEU members will be walking out in different parts of England and Wales on 1, 2 and 3 March.

The situation with these three unions shows the disparity that exists in the broader movement. While some unions like the RMT won’t have it, others – like the UCU – appear all too willing to give a little when bosses won’t reciprocate the gesture. If trade unions should know anything, it’s that capitalists cannot be trusted. The RMT knows this – but it appears the UCU needs to up its game.

Featured image via Nick Efford – Wikimedia, resized to 770×403 under licence CC BY-SA 2.0, Politics JOE – YouTube, the UCU – YouTube and the NEU – YouTube

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