Tube strike: Dear Londoners, this is why we are on strike

Where is the room in London Underground's brave new world for disabled people, poor people and non-English speakers?

Where is the room in London Underground’s brave new world for disabled people, poor people and non-English speakers? asks John Leach

Last June, the government cut funding to Transport for London by 12.5 per cent. Last November, London Underground Ltd (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.

London Underground knows very well that passengers do not want these cuts, that staff do not want these cuts, that Londoners do not want these cuts. It is not making these cuts and closures in order to improve and ‘modernise’ its service, as it claims: it is making them to save money and damn the consequences.

Transport for London – which owns London Underground – has refused proposals from RMT that it ask the government to reverse the funding cut and that it trim the salaries of the 328 people that TfL paid more than £100,000 in 2012/13. LU bosses claim that only 3 per cent of journeys involve a visit to a ticket office.

But the percentage disguises the hard fact that this is well over 100,000 people per day. LU claims that ticket office staff are ‘invisible’: how does it think that all these people manage to find them?!

LU’s vision is of an Underground where no-one needs ticket offices and no-one needs help: an Underground where everyone has topped up their payment card online and moves confidently and seamlessly through the system.

But where is the room in this brave new world for visitors to London unfamiliar with the system, disabled people, poor people who struggle to keep their card in credit, non-English speakers, people visiting hospitals, elderly people, people who fear assault or harassment while travelling, or anyone else who does not measure up to their ideal customer?

Moreover, these cuts represent only 6 per cent of the total savings that TfL needs to make. So if the company steamrollers these plans through, then the hard-pressed passengers can also look forward to at least several of the following: higher fares, abandoned improvements, more staff cuts, less frequent services, less regular maintenance and thus lower safety standards.

LU bosses have claimed in the media that RMT has made no alternative proposals – or that the union has made no ‘constructive’ or ‘credible’ proposals.

This is a sleight of hand in which the company dismisses the well-thought-through, detailed alternative proposals that we made as being neither constructive nor credible, when in fact they are both.

RMT has proposed that TfL/LU: undertake a major programme of making the Tube accessible to disabled people; ask the government for more money; cap salaries at £100,000; bring all contracted-out services in-house; promote its own ticket offices rather than rival outlets; and abandon costly preparations for further cuts, such as driverless trains.

These measures would both improve services and save money, but were all rejected by top Tube bosses, who even had the cheek to claim that if anything, they are not paid enough.

So that is why we are on strike. We have talked and talked and it has got us nowhere. When we took strike action in February, it won us and Londoners a promise from the company of a ‘station-by-station review’ which ‘may lead to some ticket offices staying open’.

Eight weeks later, that station-by-station review has not taken place, and LU bosses openly state that even when it does, it will not lead to any ticket offices staying open.

This is deeply shocking and disappointing – but perhaps not surprising when the puppet-master is Boris Johnson, elected Mayor on a promise of keeping a ticket office open at every station, a promise that now lies in tatters.

London Underground Ltd has shown emphatically that when we stop taking action, it stops backing down. The company could not have made it clearer that if we want to stop these cuts and closures, we have to strike.

On the eve of the strike, RMT offered to Tube bosses that we would suspend our strike if they suspended their cuts to allow a full public consultation. They refused.

That tells you who is to blame for the strike going ahead. And it makes you wonder what they fear from a public consultation – presumably, that the public disagree with their plans.

John Leach is RMT London transport regional organiser

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