TRAVEL in London was brought to a virtual halt last Monday during a very successful strike action by London Underground staff in the RMT and TSSA unions, demanding the restoration of safe levels of staffing.
The problems have arisen over the last year after cuts to the Transport for London (TfL) budget made by former Chancellor George Osborne and cuts to staffing made by former London Mayor Boris Johnson.
More than 800 jobs have gone, ticket offices have been closed and control rooms at many stations often go unstaffed. This seriously endangered staff and passengers on at least two occasions: one case of dangerous overcrowding at Canning Town station and another at North Greenwich where a terrorist bomb was found, which fortunately failed to detonate. In both cases there was no one in the station control rooms to trigger emergency incident plans and it was only by luck that there were no mass casualties.
There has been an increase in the numbers of doors closing, trapping passengers’ hands, coats and bags leading to passengers being dragged along platforms because there are fewer platform staff and CCTV monitoring cameras have also been cut to save money.
Staff are concerned that before long there will be a major catastrophe. The new Labour Mayor, Sadiq Khan, has promised to look at re-opening some ticket offices and restoring 200 jobs, but the unions say this is nowhere near enough.
The strike led to chaos as people tried to get to work by other means — buses were packed and Clapham Junction rail station had to be closed because of dangerous overcrowding.There were dozens of picket lines across the capital and public support for the strike was high, despite a barrage of attacks on the unions from the media. Tory MPs called again for public sector strikes to be banned.
TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes was out visiting picket lines on Monday from 5am and said that the strike was solid. Just 10 of 270 stations were open.
He said: “I pay tribute to my members whose commitment to public service is so strong they are now prepared to forego a day’s pay today and strike if that’s what it takes to warn the public that the Tube is no longer being as safely run as it was this time last year.
“The strength of feeling on this issue is reflected in the solidity of the strike with just a few trains are running at the edges of the system.
“London Underground may tell you today that they are offering 600 jobs this year, but the Tube sheds 400 jobs per year through natural wastage. In reality the offer is just 200 and whilst it’s a step in the right direction 200 jobs cannot plug the gaping hole that’s been left in the system by devastating Tory attacks on TfL’s budget.”
The RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “Our members are out in force across London Underground this morning in the fight for jobs and safety. The strike action is being solidly supported on every line, at every station and on picket lines right across the Tube network.
“This action has been forced on us by savage cuts to jobs that have reduced London Underground to an under-staffed death trap at a time of heightened security and safety alert.
“RMT members will not stand idly by while they see day in and day out the safety regime on the tube being slashed to ribbons. Even senior Tube bosses have admitted that we are absolutely correct in our assessment of the risks that are being taken as the impact of the 900 station job cuts hits home.
“The solution is in the hands of the Mayor and his officials. They need to come up with serious and urgent plans designed to address the core issues at the heart of this dispute and a schedule for staffing back up on the stations to a level our reps believe is safe and sustainable.”
Meanwhile the battle to preserve the role of guards on trains at Southern Rail continues — also an issue of safety for passengers and rail staff.
The day after TfL station staff went on strike across London’s tube network, Southern Rail services were cancelled on Tuesday, as well as on Wednesday and Friday, in the latest strikes on the commuter rail network.In this instance the drivers’ union ASLEF was involved. These are the first walkouts of the new year in a long-running dispute at Southern over whether trains should operate without guards, leaving drivers to operate train doors.