Why All Grades Should Stick Together: The Story of PPP

In 1998, the recently-elected New Labour government announced a ‘public-private partnership’ for London Underground. Operations would remain in the public sector, but the infrastructure would transfer to private consortia on 30-year leases.

The unions fought this proposal for five years. The government and the company wanted us to believe that because only engineering workers were to be privatised, the PPP would not affect operational staff such as drivers, station staff and service control. But RMT refused to swallow this, and all grades took strike action together in an attempt to stop the PPP - or failing that, to at least win some protection for staff. In 2001, RMT and ASLEF went on strike together, brought London to a standstill, and forced management to concede some of the protections that we still have today - for example, the ‘no compulsory redundancies’ policy.

The government finally imposed PPP in 2003. There then followed a spate of derailments, and since then, staff in all grades have fought to maintain safety standards under a PPP regime that puts profits first. Metronet collapsed in 2007, Tube Lines may go the same way soon, and the overrun of the Jubilee Line upgrade is one of London Underground’s reasons for cutting jobs now.

This shows that even when management tell us that only one grade is affected, we do not have to believe it - we should stick together and defend each other.