Socialist Worker

Cuts and shifting Covid-19 rules led to attacks on tube workers

by Sam Ord
Issue No. 2781

The media demonise tube workers when go on strike, as in 2014

The media demonise tube workers when they go on strike, as in 2014 (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Three in four London Underground and Transport for London (TfL) rail network staff have been subjected to violence since the Covid-19 crisis began in March 2020.

A new report by the RMT union found those in public-facing roles had been subjected to huge levels of violence at work. Half of those attacked reported that violent attacks happened multiple times.

Some 28 percent of workers reported being racially harassed and seven percent had been sexually assaulted.

In addition 14 percent of staff were spat at or targeted with bodily fluids—sometimes in an attempt to threaten Covid contamination.

One worker told the RMT, “Being sworn at every day and confronted with violence and aggression has become part of the job. We put up with it so we don’t escalate it. But it is ten times worse since Covid.”

This report blames the scale of the attacks on TFL management and the government's handling of Covid safety restrictions.

During the pandemic staff numbers fell while at the same time workers were left to enforce Covid regulations.

Half of staff in public-facing roles were working alone when they were subjected to violence.

Messages

And over 80 percent of those who responded to the survey said that the government’s sporadic and confusing messages regarding the lifting of Covid restrictions had made the situation worse for workers.

One worker said, “The messages are vague and cause conflict among customers who expect us to intervene.”

Another added, “You get slated because the company say one thing and everyone does another and you have people having a go because you’re not telling people to wear masks”

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For years, TfL has been run on a false and failed funding model. The government cut grants and the London Mayor does not fight hard enough to win more cash.

The idea that TfL can be funded just from fares means a shortfall. And workers numbers fall as a result. This leads to a worse experience for passengers and workers.

And attitudes towards workers are made worse by the constant media stereotype that tube workers are overpaid, selfish and lazy.

Such lies come out particularly if there is a strike.

There is also a dangerous narrative the ruling class uses to their advantage. Tube workers who have rightly resisted the reopening of the Night Tube until they guarantee fair conditions, staffing and pay have been vilified as “selfish” by right wing newspapers.

We can expect more of this after tube workers in the Aslef union this week voted 99 percent for strikes to protect working conditions and pensions.

This report should be a wake up call for TfL management to increase staff numbers and make the fundamental shifts for safe workplaces. But it will take a fight to force TfL’s hand.


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