by Daphne Liddle
TRANSPORT chaos descended on London last week following industrial action by two major railway unions. London Underground workers paralysed much of the capital’s transport in a two-day walk-out in protest at draconian cuts that would close all the ticket offices throughout the network.
RMT and TSSA were protesting at attempts by the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, and Transport for London (TfL) to impose cuts that will cost nearly 1,000 jobs and jeopardise passenger safety.
Seventy per cent of London Underground trains were out of action and since many trains are driven by members of Aslef, and not all LU workers are in unions that is an impressive impact.
RMT leader Bob Crow said the strike was rock solid. “RMT members have spoken with their feet and I thank you for your support for your union throughout this dispute. Keep it up!”
RMT released pictures of lethal overcrowding at Waterloo on Wednesday morning showing that TfL had “ripped up the safety rule book”. The union called for a full safety inquiry into deadly conditions as managers ignored every regulation in the book and exposed passengers to serious crushing and trampling risk.
Bob Crow together with Manuel Cortez, general secretary of TSSA, turned up early at London’s City Hall on the first day of the strike to challenge Boris Johnson to talk with them on his regular Ask Boris programme on LBC Radio.
Johnson refused to meet them face-to-face but there was a brief discussion by phone. Johnson refused to meet Crow and Cortez on the grounds that, with the strike plans in place, the unions were “holding a gun to London’s head”. He said he would only meet them if the strike was called off.
Crow replied that the document sent out to all London Underground workers informing them of the cuts, disguised as “modernisation” and without any consultation with the unions was a gun to the head of the LU workers. Crow said if this document was suspended then the strike would also be suspended to allow for talks.
The LBC host of Ask Boris, Nick Ferrari, expressed astonishment that Johnson had not met Crow for many years and said he thought Johnson would have met with “anyone, anytime anywhere” if it could avert the strike.
The union leaders also raised the issue of Johnson’s election pledge a few years ago that he would never close the ticket offices. Johnson replied that that was six years ago and technology had advanced so much since then, “Everybody’s got I-Pads and things,” so that ticket offices were no longer needed.
He said ticket staff should “come out from behind the glass” and be deployed on platforms and about the station helping and advising passengers. But with nearly 1,000 jobs gone there will not be very many of them doing that.
TSSA, which represents most of the booking clerks, points out that if a passenger is in trouble, the one place they can be certain of finding a member of staff is in the ticket office. If staff are wandering about a distressed passenger has little chance of finding them.
The unions also warned that a growing number of stops will become “ghost stations” with no staff on hand at all — a serious safety hazard where children can wander in and lark about as well as a muggers’ and drug-dealers’ paradise.
Supervisors, who ensure the safety of passengers, will be cut by 45 per cent and will now oversee multiple stations. In the many emergencies where trains can’t move, the supervisors may be stuck several stops away.
And if Johnson and LU can get away with these cuts they have, in future, plans to run driverless trains, all operated by computers. With the condition of trains and tracks deteriorating, due to previous cuts of maintenance staff, trains often break down or signals fail, leaving trains stuck in tunnels for long periods.
With no driver to keep in touch with controllers and let passengers know what is happening and if need be get them off and lead them to safety there would soon be some very serious accidents.But the ruling class do not, generally, travel by public transport and to them all that matters is cutting costs so they can enjoy more tax cuts.