Letter: How rail union learnt a lesson

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The Independent Online
Sir: In your profile of Jimmy Knapp (10 April), you overlook a crucial event in early 1985, when the then National Union of Railwaymen Executive voted for an all-out strike on London Underground over one-person operation of trains and was comprehensively rolled over by the membership, more than three-quarters of whom ignored the strike call - totally unprecedented in the history of a trade union with a long tradition of solidarity. It was undoubtedly this event which led the union's executive to accept the proposition that the BR membership should be balloted later in that year over driver-only operation in BR. Had there been a ballot in London Underground, the earlier humiliation could have been avoided.

As always the loyal servant of his union, Jimmy Knapp campaigned vigorously in support of the executive's recommendation to strike. But when the majority in BR voted against a strike, far from being a humiliation, this actually justified the decision to hold a ballot, since the vote was held before a strike ballot became a legal requirement.

With regard to the present dispute, the Government will be unwise to rely on anti-union sentiment, when it is widely perceived that the fundamental issue, as with the teachers, is the impact on staff of the implementation of radical changes without pre-planning, selective testing and building up a sufficient constituency of support.

The public is actually very nervous about this, and senses that the Government, in pursuit of commercial disciplines, behaves in a way no self-respecting commercial enterprise would contemplate.

Yours faithfully,


Hove, East Sussex

The writer was personnel director of London Underground (1984-92).