Socialist Worker

Jobs and safety battle hits tube

by Matthew Cookson
Issue No. 2217

AROUND 10,000 workers on London Underground are set to go into battle over jobs and safety when they strike for 24 hours from Monday of next week.

The RMT and TSSA transport union members are to walk out over bosses’ plans to cut 800 station staff jobs.

Bosses also want to severely reduce ticket office opening hours, increase the time between essential maintenance checks on trains and cut drivers’ posts.

Many fear that this is only the beginning, with rumours that £1.2 billion could be axed from Transport for London’s budget after the government’s October spending review.

After a three to one vote for action, Metronet maintenance and engineering staff will strike from 5pm on Monday. Station staff, drivers, signallers and other grades will strike from 9pm.

Their action will be bolstered by Alstom train maintenance and engineering workers on the tube who are set to strike over pay for 24 hours from 7pm on Sunday.

London Underground bosses want to cut the workforce down to the bone, with the remaining staff forced into doing the jobs of those who have gone, as well as their own. This is part of £16 million worth of “savings” already being implemented.

Union activists reject bosses’ claims that only “positions” and vacancies are being cut, not jobs, and that workers are being “reorganised” to fill the gaps.

Dispute

But not hiring people means that there will be fewer people doing vital jobs, and the cuts are already hitting the service.

One RMT rep told Socialist Worker, “Staffing levels have been pared to the bone this summer while people have been on annual leave. Management’s plans are already having an impact as vacancies are not being filled.

“Many of the jobs have already gone, so this dispute is about how we stop the rot.

“While some people are a bit hesitant about the strike, others want to take to the picket line for the first time to make sure that no scabbing takes place. They realise this is a serious issue.”

Less workers on the tube will mean a more dangerous and worse service for passengers and a less safe workplace.

Safety problems on the network were highlighted by a runaway engineers’ train on the London Underground on Friday 13 August, which could have led to a major disaster.

The importance of safety-aware staff was shown at Euston station in July when smoke detector systems failed.

Workers noticed a fire underneath an escalator and evacuated the station safely, due to their experience and skill.

Now the jobs of these workers are under threat.

“The job cuts will have a big impact on the safety of staff and passengers,” said the RMT rep. “Losing numbers will mean that we will be stretched to the limit and made to work harder.”

Privateers

The RMT is demanding that there are no cuts to jobs and safety, a maximum wage for fat cat bosses and ending commissions for ticket selling privateers.

The RMT rep said, “Lots of people are also saying that they will stick by the overtime ban the union has called—which could shut stations in some weeks because of the levels of staffing.”

More strikes are planned for 3 October and 2 and 28 November.

It is good that the unions have called strikes against the attacks their members face. The action could shut the tube network down.

But the bosses and London mayor Boris Johnson are determined to drive the cuts through.

It is clear that more frequent and hard-hitting action will be required to stop them, and to strengthen the unions for the battles to come.

Activists are also arguing that the union should oppose management’s threats to withdraw no compulsory redundancy agreements, and any attempt to bring in voluntary redundancies.

Other trade unionists and passengers should back the tube workers’ vital fight.


The RMT union has pointed to the crucial role of safety-trained guards following the derailment of a train at a level-crossing collision on the Marks Tey-Sudbury line in Suffolk on 17 August.

The official log of the crash records that conductor Candice Ong requested emergency assistance and continued to evacuate injured passengers while fuel was leaking. She did this despite suffering from injuries herself.

The National Express East Anglia rail franchise runs a service on which most commuter trains do not have a guard.


Tube drivers in the RMT at London Underground’s White City Central Line depot have voted to strike if bosses fail to reinstate a colleague unfairly sacked over a minor incident. They backed action by over two to one


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Article information

News
Tue 31 Aug 2010, 16:50 BST
Issue No. 2217
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