By Simon Basketter
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Tube workers on track for rolling strikes

The week of action marks an escalation in the long-running dispute over jobs, conditions and pensions
Issue 2863
Group of confident-looking RMT union members at Brixton tue station, women and men, black and white

RMT union members on strike last November (Picture: Guy Smallman)

The RMT union has announced a week of rolling strikes on the Tube beginning later this month. The action from 23 to 28 July is an escalation of a long-running dispute on London Underground over jobs, conditions and pensions.

Sadie is a customer service assistant (CSA) and RMT rep at Brixton station in south London. She told Socialist Worker, “It’s really great that the union has announced a much bigger scale of action than we’ve seen so far in this dispute. We now have the potential to shut down and seriously disrupt the tube for an entire week.”

Transport for London (TfL) has already begun slashing positions on the Underground, imposing new rosters with fewer staff despite union opposition. It claims it needs to make “savings” to placate the Tories. This makes work harder and less safe for station staff, and also means a worse service for passengers.

“Last week I took a visually-impaired passenger to a nearby bus stop so he could continue his journey,” Sadie said. “But the scale of cuts means that we are increasingly on ‘minimum numbers’ in stations, which means staff can’t leave so I wouldn’t be able to do that.

“It’s infuriating and upsetting when we can’t give vulnerable people the help they need.”

Since that first round of attacks, TfL has announced plans for drastic cuts to managers and changes to the areas where station staff work. It is also refusing to promise that there will be no change to the pension scheme.

Joe, an RMT health and safety rep for Victoria South, said, “This action proves that all who make up the London Underground have had enough of cuts, after cuts, after cuts. LU claim to care about their employees, and want to make LU a great place to work- yet their actions prove this isn’t the case.

“The people who will suffer? The workers and the travelling public. There is no money apparently. But if there is enough money to give the higher management huge wage rises and bonuses—there is enough to stop these needless and dangerous cuts.”

TfL paints itself as poor, citing the impact of the pandemic, and claims it has no choice but to make cuts. But TfL’s own figures show that income from fares is at its highest level since the first Covid lockdown.

It made £380 million in income in the first four weeks of the financial year—more than every year since 2019-20. Passenger numbers are soaring. On 15 June this year, a record 685,000 passengers used the Elizabeth Line, and there were 3.8 million Tube journeys and 5.3 million bus journeys. Every 1 percent increase in total use gives TfL an extra £50 million a year.

And TfL doesn’t seem to be poor when it comes to the bosses. Stuart Harvey, director of major projects, got a 59.7 percent pay rise between 2020-2021 and 2021-2022, taking his salary to £375,276. Simon Kilonback, chief finance officer, grabbed a 64.5 percent rise, while customer operations director Andy Lord got a 21.1 percent increase.

“Lots of workers are furious at how TfL squanders money, then claims it can’t afford to employ staff,” Sadie said. “This isn’t inevitable – it’s a political choice. We need to fight to defend our jobs, not only for us but for workers in the future.”

The strikes are set to begin on 23 July and will see different grades strike on different days.

“Lots of people hope that this strategy will mean maximum disruption while minimising loss of money for strikers,” Sadie said. “Obviously I hope that this will be disruptive and have a big impact. But really, the thing that would have the biggest impact would be if we all struck together.”

Bosses to close ticket offices

Fat cat train bosses and the Tory government have announced the closure of 1,000 train ticket offices. 

The closures come with statutory redundancy notices for hundreds of railway workers, said the RMT. General Secretary Mick Lynch said the move is a “savage attack on railway workers, their families and the travelling public.”

And the impact of the closures will hit the disabled and vulnerable hardest as they will be forced to rely on apps and remote mobile teams to be available to assist them.

Lynch added, “Some of the train operators issuing our members with statutory redundancy notices today are cutting two thirds of their workforce. 

“It is clear that the whole enterprise of closing ticket offices has got nothing to do with modernisation and is a thinly veiled plan to gut our railways of station staff.

“Fat cat rail operators and the government do not care one jot about passenger safety or a well-staffed and friendly railway 

open to all to use. They want to cut costs, make profits for shareholders, and run the network into the ground.” 

The announcement makes strikes set for 20, 22 and 29 July even more important. The 20,000 workers involved should build picket lines and rallies and ultimately argue for more strikes to beat back the bosses and Tory attacks.

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