Socialist Worker

Tube bosses are putting lives at risk, say drivers

Peter Trotter, one of the drivers on the tube train targeted on Thursday of last week, explained why his union, the RMT, is campaigning over tube safety.

Issue No. 1961

If the travelling public knew the truth behind the authorities’ claims to be ensuring safety, there would be an outcry. Tube workers know the reality first hand. That’s why the RMT is demanding urgent action now.

I was in the cab of the west bound Hammersmith & City line train targeted in the attempted bombings last week.

There was me and my co-driver on the train. That in itself is important—since the first bombings, which hit two trains on our line, our union reps at my depot have won “double crewing”, at least temporarily.

That means having two drivers in the cab, not one. It’s a step towards bringing back guards on the trains, which is what the RMT is calling for.

On that day, the fact that we had two members of staff was crucial. We had just passed Latimer Road station when we saw a notice saying that the radio coverage was down over the next stretch.

Over the years I’ve lost count of the number of times the radio has been out of action. Ask any tube driver from any line and they will tell the same story. I don’t think passengers realise that very often the driver of a train carrying up to 1,000 people is totally out of contact with line controllers.

After we saw the notice we were discussing what we should do about it—the unions are arguing for a policy of “no radio, no train”—then the passenger alarm went off. With no radio, we could not alert the line control.

My co-driver was able to get the train into Shepherd’s Bush while I went back through the carriages to find out what the emergency was. When we pulled up to the platform people just ran from the train. Several shouted, “He’s over there, he’s over there.”

Because there were two of us we were able to get the passengers to safety and I was able to get down to the end of the platform, see someone heading off down the track, and give a description to the police.

My colleague was at the same time able to locate the carriage with the bomb in it and get everyone away.

Later that night and the following day we discovered that drivers across the network had been threatened with being sent home without pay because they refused to work in unsafe conditions in the wake of the bombings that day.

The RMT is saying that it is absolutely wrong that it is only the lines where a bomb is discovered that get shut down. We know the pattern is multiple bombings—and we know that 7 July was not a one off.

We are demanding a complete evacuation of the network when a bomb goes off or is discovered. People won’t tolerate stories about “power surges” anymore.

And we are having to battle to get safety measures adopted. There is a major problem with the radios. There is a wider problem with communications—staff are being put in a position of giving passengers false information because they are not being told what’s going on.

The union is inundated with instances of drivers and station staff being told to do things that are unsafe.

For example, on one commuter line a member of staff was told just to go round putting plastic security tag seals on storage areas of trains where they were missing. No one knows what was inside them.

The procedure for dealing with suspect packages is a joke. I saw one incident six months ago where a manager just boarded a train and started rummaging through an abandoned rucksack.

Lots of tube workers are now taking action themselves to improve safety.

Our unions are also demanding action from management and the London mayor. Every passenger, worker and trade unionist should back us.

'The government is trying to save its own skin'

I was travelling back from the G8 protests when the first bombings happened. Tony Blair stood in that luxury hotel at Gleneagles surrounded by the tightest security in the world and said people should carry on as normal.

On the day of the second bombings he could go to a bomb proof bunker under Downing Street and he said the same.

Top tube managers quoted his words in a meeting with our union officials. Blair said if tube workers took action over safety that stopped services it would be a “victory for the terrorists”.

But he hasn’t used public transport for many years and probably never will. Who the hell is he to intimidate the rest of us to work “normally” in what are far from normal conditions?

And it is clear that most people in the country have not fallen for the idea that Blair’s war on Iraq has nothing to do with us becoming a target for terrorism.

The government is trying to save its own skin. That’s why it’s shifting the focus onto Muslims. My union is saying loud and clear that we will fight the anti-Muslim backlash.

It’s also why all the politicians are justifying the shooting dead of an innocent man. The driver of the train he was on also had a gun put to his head by the police. This is bringing new terror—it’s not fighting terrorism.

I went on the anti-war demonstration as part of an RMT delegation on 15 February 2003, and on all the marches that followed.

Britain and the US launched missiles that blew up market places and wedding parties. They claimed we had the moral high ground when in reality they were trying to steal Iraq’s resources. Now they say it has nothing to do with Iraq—it’s as if politicians turn into goldfish with three second memories.

We can take all the security measures we like—and tube workers will fight for ones that work, not ones that get 27 year old electricians killed—but it is only by changing the policies that breed terrorism that we are going to make us all safer.


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News
Sat 30 Jul 2005, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1961
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