London Underground workers last week proved that the tragic loss of Bob Crow has in no way dented their fighting spirit or their ability to pull off a successful Tube strike to defend jobs, ticket offices and safety standards on London Underground (LU).
The RMT strike began on Monday evening and lasted until Wednesday evening. And despite management and the BBC claiming they had some trains running on each of the 11 lines if these trains existed at all they were only a token show.
Transport in London ground to a halt, with commuter journeys taking half a working day or more through seriously congested roads.
Yet the majority of Londoners still support the union’s battle to keep ticket offices open and stations well-staffed. And they are angry at London Mayor Boris Johnson’s treachery in reneging on his election pledge to keep all ticket offices open.
Last June the Government cut funding to Transport for London by 12.5 per cent. Last November LU announced its intention to close all its ticket offices, cut 953 jobs and restructure its station staffing to create more managers but cut the pay of station staff.
RMT responded immediately with a call to action on one hand and proposals for a better restructuring on the other. But LU did not want to know.
Two strikes earlier this year forced management to accept negotiations at the Acas arbitration service. But throughout the negotiations they maintained their intransigence.
RMT acting general secretary Mick Cash said:
“London Underground have dug themselves into an entrenched position and have refused to move one inch from their stance of closing every ticket office, in breach of the agreement reached previously through Acas which enabled us to suspend the previous round of action.
“Despite the spin from LU nothing that they are proposing is about 'modernisation'. The current plans, closing every ticket office and axing nearly 1,000 safety-critical jobs, is solely about massive austerity cuts driven centrally by David Cameron and his government and implemented by Mayor Boris Johnson.
“RMT could have recommended the suspension of this strike action if LU had responded positively to our proposal to halt the implementation of these savage cuts, stopping the dire impact they would have the length and breadth of London Underground.
“Elected members of the Greater London Assembly have called for a public consultation on these cuts and the future of the tube. RMT agrees with that.
“If LU had agreed a full and proper public consultation, involving everyone with a stake in the future of a tube network facing surging demand and growing pressures, and agreed to halt the implementation of the cuts, RMT was prepared to recommend suspending the action. We believe that this was a sensible and productive way to proceed but it has been rejected wholesale by tube managers who seem hell-bent on confrontation.
“As a consequence of the management stance the action, which is about halting savage, cash-led attacks on jobs, services and safety, goes ahead as planned. RMT remains available for serious and meaningful talks around our alternative proposals.”
The cuts, if they were allowed to go ahead, would impact most on travellers who are disabled, poor and needing to top up their travel-cards more frequently and visitors to London who do not know their way around or do not speak English.
LU claims that only three per cent of journeys involve a visit to a ticket office. But the percentage disguises the truth that this is well over 100,000 people per day.
Ticket machines are often faulty and passengers who need help know where to find a member of staff if they are in the ticket office.
And there are worse cuts in store if RMT does not succeed. Treasury budget cuts could lead to driverless trains (what happens when there is a breakdown in a tunnel – hardly a rare event?), higher fares, fewer trains and improvements abandoned.
RMT deserves the support of all Londoners and should be an inspiration to other unions on how to fight the avalanche of cuts that is blighting services and living standards throughout the country – and throughout the western world.
RMT has said it will strike again for 72 hours from 21:00 on Monday 5th May, if the ticket office dispute is not resolved.