The RMT, and London Underground staff in particular, have long had a reputation as being among the most militant groups of workers in the UK, so the news that tube workers are taking strike action isn’t hugely surprising in itself. What’s more interesting is the kind of action they’re taking: a revenue strike.
This term isn’t a widely used one, and they explain what it means here:
“…Revenue Control Inspectors
Do not issue penalty fares, fares paid, or assist in any duty or activity which involves revenue collection.
Must open the gates using the SCU – you MUST NOT power them down. Should there be a need to close the gates for crowd control, then you must comply with all relevant safety procedures and legislation.
Do not assist customers with ticket purchase at the front of POM/MFM.
Close all POMs and TOMs for customer use (to avoid failures. Do not carry out any Window Ticket Selling, Banking, POM service, Consolidation or cash collection.
Issue no penalty fares, do not carry out fare evasion activities, ticket selling, assisting with POMs or restoring Customer Journeys.
Do not allocate any staff to revenue duties…”
So, instead of the usual kind of transport strikes, which often set tube workers against passengers by disrupting their journeys, the revenue strike means that commuting workers can make their journeys as normal, but they’ll be riding for free – so this action will cause problems for the bosses but not for passengers. In terms of the dispute over ticket office closures, this will have a positive effect by making it easier to bring workers and passengers together in a united campaign, as well as meaning that staff can take action without losing pay.
What could be even more significant is the potential for this action to serve as an inspiration to other workers. Imaginative and audacious actions can often become powerful examples, as with the square protests and Occupy camps of 2011, UK Uncut actions, waves of student occupations or riots. It’s always easier to imagine doing something yourself once someone else has done it first, and there are many other workers who could use the kind of selective strike tactics being used in this dispute. For instance, the fight against the Post Office sell-off could easily make use of a revenue strike by announcing that posties would start sorting and delivering all mail, stamped or not. This kind of action could also be useful for workers struggling to organise in new workplaces, like fast food: picketing makes it easy for the bosses to identify “ringleaders”, but it might be harder to identify organisers among a group of workers taking more covert action, like serving customers their meals but forgetting to charge.
Perhaps the most compelling case for a selective strike is in the DWP and local councils. Rank-and-file militants in the PCS have already made the case for refusing to sanction claimants, and the PCS leadership have refused to consider it; but the idea of a “sanctions strike” might be harder to dismiss now the RMT’s revenue strike is a concrete model it can be based on. If the RMT can direct its members to “[i]ssue no penalty fares, do not carry out fare evasion activities [or] ticket selling” as part of their campaign, then why can’t DWP and local government workers in dispute refuse to carry out those duties that involve sanctioning claimants and implementing the bedroom tax?
Isolation and division are always powerful weapons in the hands of the bosses. By allowing people to ride the tube for free, underground staff are breaking down barriers between them and passengers; they’re also helping to spread an idea that could have very powerful effects if adopted by other workers.