Socialist Worker

Tensions are rising on the Underground

by Raymie Kiernan
Issue No. 2467

Tube rolling stock at Rayners Lane station

Bosses are trying to worsen conditions for workers on London’s Tube (Pic: Flickr: Tubetroll)

Tube workers have fought back against the Tories’ agenda. The two 24-hour shutdowns in July and August showed the power unions have to resist.

Transport for London (TfL) bosses claim these were down to greed from already well paid workers.

The truth is that the workload is increasing as the number of passenger journeys continues to rise. But bosses are ramming through cuts and expecting work to continue as normal.

“Management want 838 fewer station staff, and more managers,” RMT union member Lynda told Socialist Worker. “Currently we get 28 days’ notice of what time and where we will be working, and only in a small group of stations.

“Now they want us to work anywhere on the whole line we work on at 24 hours’ notice. How are you supposed to plan your life with shifts like that?”

TfL’s “efficiencies programme” has cut £13 billion, with a further £3 billion more still to come.

Tory mayor Boris Johnson’s transport agency is using the government’s austerity drive to try and reshape the capital’s transport services.

And he wants workers and passengers to pay.


Fares rise above inflation each year as budgets go down. Workers are resisting the imposition of new conditions linked to the Night Tube that would introduce 24-hour running on some lines at weekends. 

But they are also fighting the ongoing restructuring of stations that threatens jobs, safety and the service.

“They also want to make a quarter of us work more nights and weekends,” Lynda said. 

“For many that could mean one weekend off in ten, or worse. Basically they want more work from fewer people, travelling longer distances and they could also be working on their own.”

This is the bosses’ vision for the whole network—and they won’t stop at stations.

On top of all this every ticket office is to be closed despite Johnson’s promise in 2010 to win votes that “every station that has a ticket office will continue to have one”.

The long term plan is to replace them as part of redeveloping bits of stations into mini shopping malls. This has already begun at some stations. TfL’s 5,700-acre portfolio of land and buildings around stations, railways and roads—one of London’s biggest and most valuable estates—is also now being eyed up for development.

 It won’t be too long before other Tube workers face similar attacks and the widely expected raid on their pensions in the future.

‘Boris gets his weekends off—so why can’t we?’

Strikers at Finsbury Park in July

Strikers at Finsbury Park in July (Pic: Sasha Simic)

The number of people working shifts has increased by 5.2 percent since the economic crisis began in 2007, a new TUC report has found. The number on regular nights is up by 6.1 percent.  

Tube driver Graham told Socialist Worker, “Shift work is linked to health and safety issues, but it’s not just about that. 

“If you work shifts and your kids are at school you’ll miss each other.” 

Tube driver Pat said, “You can go days without seeing your family.”  

Bosses are trying to introduce a Night Tube, running some lines round the clock at weekends. 

The proposed rota for this includes one week with drivers on late and night shifts from Saturday until Sunday. 

People aged between 18 and 24 are already twice as likely to work night shifts as they would have been 20 years ago. RMT union health and safety rep Cat told Socialist Worker, “Putting more people onto night work will mean their health will get worse.

“You’re more prone to things such as obesity and diabetes. People are also more open to depression.”

Cat added, “If you work nights and shifts your level of concentration can go down. We deal with lives and don’t want accidents to happen.”

Tube driver Michael told Socialist Worker, “Some people like night shifts but they don’t suit everybody. You’ve got to have a balance between family and social life.

“They’re pushing through cuts and making fewer people work more.”

Graham added, “Boris Johnson, the MPs and City Hall bods all have weekend off—there’s no problem there.”

Tomáš Tengely-Evans

Some names have been changed

The Tube bosses’ gravy train

TfL bosses claimed last week that the Tube unions’ demands would cost £1.4 billion over the next eight years. 

They said passengers would have to cover this through immediate fare increases of 6.5 percent.

It was a predictable response from those responsible for cuts ten times that size.

There was no mention of the money paid out to 413 senior TfL staff last year of over £100,000. 

Over eight years that’s over £330 million, not including pension contributions.

The TfL gravy train has been good to some, as they go round the revolving door taking them from corporate to public boardrooms.

Take former TfL commissioner Sir Peter Hendy, now the new chairman of Network Rail. 

Hendy’s TfL salary last year was £331,362—but with added extras he managed to trouser another £157,526.

Even though he no longer works there, Hendy looks forward to his final TfL bonus—likely to be another six-figure sum.

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