Socialist Worker

Our questions must be answered, say Tube staff

by Matthew Cookson
Issue No. 1960

Staff in the public services played a crucial and heroic role in the aftermath of the bombings in London on Thursday of last week — none more so than Tube drivers and station workers.

But many of them are bitter about the way they were treated by London Underground management on the day — and at the government’s relentless attacks on Tube safety.

“Tube workers played an incredible role. They were the first on the scene — before the paramedics, the police and the firefighters,” said Unjum Mirza, the London Transport political officer for the RMT union.

“People acted from a human perspective and went straight down the tunnel getting people out. They saved lives. As they were doing this, London Underground was saying this was all down to a ‘power surge’.

“The three bombs in the Tube system went off at 8.50am. It took until 9.19am for management to declare ‘code amber’, which means caution. It was only at 9.50am that they declared ‘code red’, meaning evacuate the stations.

“Management attempted to keep the service going while all this was happening and treated staff appallingly. The police were telling people not to go into central London. But management threatened staff with disciplinary action if they didn’t turn up.

Helping

“There was constant political pressure from the government downwards that it would be ‘business as usual’ to prove to the terrorists that London would keep moving. Tube workers felt they were being made expendable to prove a political point.”

Tony Collins is a Tube driver and RMT safety rep at Edgware Road, one of the stations hit by the attacks. “Two trains were hit at my depot, both driven by friends of mine,” he told Socialist Worker. “Every worker at Edgware Road got involved in helping people off the trains.

“People are proud of each ­other. I’ve never seen such unity in a workplace. They’re looking after each other and not standing for managment bull­shit. It’s down to Tube staff to hold the line when it comes to safety.”

Tube worker Mac McKenna added, “A Muslim worker was one of the first people on the scene at King’s Cross, smashing windows with his feet and getting 167 people out with no thought for his own safety.

“Other staff were straight in there too. But there has been little recognition of their work from management — the driver of the first train blown up was not even given a taxi ride home.”

Peter Hughes works at Northfields station on the Piccadilly line in west London. “People are numbed by the attacks — but it won’t be long before they are asking why this happened,” he told Socialist Worker.

“It must come back to the relationship between Blair and Bush and a war that the vast majority in Britian didn’t want.

“There’s a lot of anger at a job review to reduce the number of staff coming at a time when there is a such a serious threat to staff and the public.”

London Underground managers want to implement massive job cuts on the Tube in return for implementing a 35-hour week, according to Unjum Mirza.

There are also cutbacks over safety because the private firms that run the Tube are costing too much. “Managment wants to introduce CCTV monitoring of gates at stations instead of having staff there,” he said. “This would mean getting rid of those people who saved lives last Thursday.

Withdraw

“The union has been arguing for a number of years that an attack was a question of ‘when’, not ‘if’, and that staff needed sufficient training.

“After last week’s tragedy the union is demanding that the government withdraws last year’s threat to water down the fire legislation that came in after the King’s Cross fire in 1987.

“Everybody I spoke to at Liverpool Street and Moorgate stations said that they knew something like this was going to happen — and that it had been played down for political reasons.”


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