Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/401/4558
Horror on our doorstep
CAMDEN COUNCIL worker HUGO PIERRE works close to Kings Cross station. He reports:
WHEN I got off the tube at Mornington Crescent just before 9 on Thursday, they were closing the station saying a power surge had caused the network to shut. By 9.30 the news reported that two trains had been damaged. A workmate said when she got out at Kings Cross, she saw people coming out of trains covered in soot or with blackened faces.
People were ringing absent workmates to find out where they were. Camden includes Kings Cross as well as two other major rail termini. By 10, some staff started to consider what had happened to their friends and family members travelling on tube and buses. Once it was announced that bombs had exploded, staff started to receive international calls from relatives.
Some people had come into the office and gone back out to visit schools in the borough. When they returned, they didn't understand why there was panic on the streets outside. Some became upset and needed consoling.
I contacted shop stewards in the Town Hall, opposite Kings Cross station. It had been evacuated because of further bomb threats and staff were moved to a neighbouring building. Everyone was told to stay in their workplace and not to travel until they were given further advice. Eventually a message was sent to tell people that buses and tubes were shut down and they could walk home.
Many were still shocked when they returned to work on Monday that this happened on our 'doorstep'. Some were also angry at the response some mosques have received over the weekend. Some are also thinking about how the council could have responded better to the emergency.
A London bus driver's view
A BIG modern city like London can only function with trust between bus drivers and passengers. As drivers we have to work on the assumption passengers aren't going to shoot us or blow us up.
A London bus driver
One Muslim driver at my garage told me he'd got abuse from some passengers after the bombings. Working-class Muslims in Iraq are victims of both the invading armies and the terrorists. In London they face the anger of a mindless minority.
When Blair supported Bush's invasion of Iraq, he said it would make Britain a safer place. Millions disagreed. Now we see who was right.
I don't see how Blair can ever stop the threat of terrorism. He's the one who's fanned the flames. He can't eliminate the causes. Capitalism cannot provide safety and security for working people in the cities. Even if there was a policeman on every bus - and that's impossible - how is that going to stop a suicide bomber?
Bus workers were horrified at what happened to the Stagecoach bus in central London. But there was cynicism about the bosses' concern for their low-paid staff.
If a driver in our garage had lost his/her life in such an explosion and had less than one year's service with the company, his partner/ children/ parents would not have received a penny from the company.
As with most London bus operators, but unlike London underground workers, bus workers' dependants would not have even got a week in hand or holiday pay after training costs had been deducted.
Stop fire service cuts
ONLY A month before the bombings, one of the two fire engines based at Bethnal Green Fire Station was removed, as part of a "reorganisation" by London Fire Authority. Altogether 10 fire engines were taken from fire stations in inner London and transferred to outer London stations along with a number of firefighters.
Bethnal Green Fire Station is only a mile from the site of the first bomb attack between Liverpool Street and Aldgate. It covers one of the country's most heavily populated areas, with a lot of high-rise blocks (which need two engines attending before firefighters can begin dealing with any fires).
This reduction in fire cover in central London was only carried through after bitter opposition from the Fire Brigades Union and local communities, who argued that it would put lives at risk. Most of the outer London stations that gained fire engines as a result were the ones that had had engines taken away in the last round of cuts several years ago.
EMERGENCY SERVICE workers were rightly praised for their professionalism while rescuing survivors from the tube trains on 7 July. These workers' skill and commitment is beyond question but doubts are emerging about how London Underground (LU) deals with such serious incidents.
By an RMT member, and LU worker
Tube workers say that once bomb blasts had disabled the train radio system there was no way for train operators to report how serious the situation was.
It is now known that all three bombs exploded at 08.50 but according to reports the emergency services did not reach the trains until a further 30 minutes had elapsed.
Rail union RMT has been warning London Underground for years that, without guards on trains, responses to this kind of incident will be hampered. Typically LU has refused to restore guards on grounds of cost.
Many stations and train operators were not told to evacuate the tube system until a full hour after the explosions. Frontline tube staff, like the emergency services, worked heroically in horrific conditions to give first aid and lead those able to walk along the tunnels to safety.
But questions must be asked of LU management about an apparent lack of planning for such an awful scenario. During recent firefighters' strikes many tube drivers refused to take trains through tunnels while there was no proper fire service cover.
LU argued then that serious incidents underground were rare. In fact they raised proposals with tube unions to cut station staff jobs on the tube system in order to save more money.
After the attack on London's transport system LU say that the procedure for dealing with unattended bags will remain unchanged. Under this policy - the HOT procedure - a bag is only considered a threat if it is deliberately hidden, in some way obviously suspicious or untypical of lost property.
Many tube workers have been unhappy with this policy for some time as a holdall or rucksack full of concealed explosives would not be considered a threat under the HOT procedure. An immediate review and more robust policy for dealing with suspect packages are needed without delay.
Bob Crow, leader of rail union RMT, rightly avoided any knee-jerk reactions when interviewed on the day of the bombings but RMT and Aslef will want answers to their members' concerns.
If answers cannot be given, the unions must back any members who don't feel it safe to operate their trains or stations under present policies.
No-one, including tube workers, wants to let terror attacks bring London to a halt but LU management cannot expect workers to accept inadequate planning to deal with a threat that is tragically all too real and immediate.
'Full alert' hospital at risk
LIKE MANY hospitals in central and West London, Charing Cross hospital in Hammersmith was on full alert to take any patients who needed help.
But according to press reports, Charing Cross hospital is to be sold off to private health insurer BUPA. Plans are already advanced. The authorities can then say that there will be still a hospital there - what they don't say is that it will only be for those who can afford to pay!
The result will be fewer services for patients in the area, and much more strain on other already hard-pressed hospitals. The bombing incident brings home how much ordinary people rely on such NHS facilities. Socialist Party members are helping to organise a massive campaign to save Charing Cross hospital.
In The Socialist 14 July 2005: