Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/18103
London tube strike: Effective action begins
RMT and TSSA union members on London Underground began the first of two 48-hour strikes at 9pm on Tuesday 4th February. The LU management wants to axe 950 tube workers, cut the pay of many of those remaining and close all ticket offices.
NSSN chair Rob Williams comments:
"After all the waiting for the tube strike with the propaganda getting louder from the Tories and their press, the first day has been a triumph for the RMT and TSSA. Transport for London might call the revised timetable a 'Special Service' but the reality was that hardly anything ran, especially in rush-hour.
"It is clear from the reports that RMT and TSSA pickets have gained confidence from the effectiveness of their action and are aware of the public backing. Ordinary people are aware of the collective battering we have taken from the Con-Dem government's austerity offensive and are happy that the tube unions are prepared to fight back. This is a dispute that can be won".
The strike began at Euston station with a pre-strike rally and speeches to the press. RMT London transport secretary John Reid chaired a line up of trade union movement speakers: Steve Hedley, RMT assistant general secretary; John Leach, RMT regional organiser; Chris Baugh, PCS assistant general secretary; Hugo Pierre, Camden Unison; Martin Powell-Davies, a member of the NUT executive; and David Ayrton from the GMB. All brought solidarity and argued for coordination of action.
Returning to central London in the early hours of the morning, we tooted and waved at TSSA pickets setting up at 4:30am as we drove to Kings Cross. "It's gorilla tactics today" said a picket in a gorilla costume who we met at Kings Cross. Kings Cross underground normally open its gates at 4:50am. But the strike was 100% solid - not one worker was in and the doors were staying shut.
Pickets were encouraged by the level of public support. After an hour at Kings Cross we moved on to Euston where the underground station was shut and queues building. When we stopped for a tea we overheard commuters comment on how packed the buses were. Next we went off to a 3Cosas protest!
We wanted to show solidarity with 3Cosas workers who are going through a disciplinary hearing today. We spent a day with them on their strike battle bus last week and we again showed our support this morning by joining a noisy protest at the University of London.
We then drove through very heavy traffic to Victoria to visit more tube pickets. We passed heaving queues at bus stops. On our way we passed: Russell Square station - shut, Holborn - shut, Temple - shut.
Queuing to get on a packed 205 bus outside Liverpool Street station, 5.2.14 tube strike, photo by Judy Beishon
At Victoria there were 20 friendly picketers. A retired union member had travelled for hours to come to support his former colleagues. These RMT and TSSA members, like others across London, are showing how important they are for the underground service and their dedication to saving jobs, terms and conditions. Helen Pattison
Helen Pattison, Paula Mitchell and Paul Callanan, London Socialist Party
Fifteen striking workers from both the RMT and TSSA trade unions joined the picket line at the depot outside Leytonstone station.
Very few workers were willing to cross the picket line, including only a handful of drivers. The majority of drivers on the Central Line are already organised in the RMT and striking with their colleagues today.
Four strikers bought copies of the Socialist. Socialist Party members handed out leaflets for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition; we hope to stand 60 candidates in May, contesting every Waltham Forest ward, including local RMT members living in the borough.
Steve Hedley, RMT assistant general secretary, joined the picket line while visiting others across London.
He said: "We're on strike to defend 950 jobs on stations, and stop deferred pay cuts of between £5,000 and £10,000 for staff. The strikes have been very solid and well supported, and we've got a very high degree of public sympathy".
Ian Pattison, Waltham Forest Socialist Party
Closed station at Liverpool Street, photo by Judy Beishon
Barking and Upminster
East London Socialist Party members visited picket lines at Barking station and Upminster depot. Both saw well-attended picket lines of RMT and TSSA members. Confidence was high and the mood was good. Those picketing were not primarily station staff (Barking and Upminster stations are run by C2C not Transport for London), but the union members present argued that if management get away with attacks on station staff, then other sections of the TfL workforce will come under attack.
Workers shared graphic illustrations of the safety risks to underground users if cuts in staff were to go through. "99.9% of the time, everything runs smoothly, but it is when that 0.01% chance occurs that you need trained staff. If these attacks go through, there will be a tragedy".
Already during the strike there had been instances of managers directing trains into one another (averted by alert drivers) and of wheelchair users unable to get off where they want because platform staff had not had the training to use the ramps.
In Upminster, the main gate to the depot is on a busy road and there were lots of cars tooting. Building work is taking place within the depot and many builders stopped to show their support for the picket line.
One striking admin worker even stopped by to bring the picketers supplies of bacon sandwiches! Some trains had gone out from Upminster, but as the RMT and TSSA members there argued, the drivers will be next if they do not join the fightback. But in both Barking and Upminster the picket lines turned people away, and pre-strike discussions had helped to persuade others.
Pickets were in a cheerful mood at the Ash House depot on the Piccadilly line at Arnos Grove, despite the early hour and overcast weather, with over 20 RMT members picketing. Only one driver, not in a union, crossed the picket line, with another -an Aslef member - going in but coming out again half an hour later to join strikers on the picket line.
Drivers were relating just how serious potential staff cuts could be in relation to an accident. At another nearby depot a manager filling in for strikers had directed two trains head-on towards each other, an accident only avoided by the awareness of drivers.
Yet LU has even floated driverless trains being deployed in the future. That's just one of the reasons why drivers were striking in support of station staff, as the currently announced attacks are just a tiny proportion of Transport for London's planned cuts.
During the time Socialist Party members were there, not a single passerby was hostile to the strike, including one who told us that he never supports strikes, but he'd heard Boris Johnson and Bob Crow on the radio last night and he was backing the strike to the hilt and bought a copy of the Socialist. Pickets also bought a couple of copies of the Socialist, with several asking us to come back with copies when they have money tomorrow.
As a gloomy day broke, the numerous, confident and mainly female pickets at Morden depot and station were in cheery mood. The unprecedented late start to a thin service and closed stations were evidence of solid support.
Pickets also commented on the high level of support from station staff and a generally more positive attitude from the public than during previous disputes. Even the weather had improved. Unlike a previous Northen line dispute, there was no snow.
Socialist Party members visited picket lines at Edgware Road, Neasden, Acton Town and Northfield. They were all full of confidence and defiant. Over a dozen pickets at Edgware Road looked on while a manager tried to open the station gates but couldn't find his keys! He then asked the striking workers if they had a set and funnily enough they didn't! At Neasden, no trains were on the move at all.
At Acton Town, the RMT rep and Socialist Party member Gary Harbord made bacon butties in his camper van to feed the pickets who were buoyed up by the fact that no Piccadilly trains were running.
Bob Sulatycki adds: Fulham Broadway tube closed all day. A good victory as RMT members had earlier managed to see off an attempt to open the station using Boris Johnson's 'volunteers'
Elephant and Castle
A manager attempted to open the station but at 7am notified people it was closed. RMT members said it was because they had got some drivers (in the union Aslef) and 10 trains ready as it's the main starting point of the Bakerloo line, but without signallers and controllers they could not go ahead.
Added on 6th February:
I gave support to the picket from Unite LE1111 and the Socialist Party. Another strong picket line which discussed details of what must be fought for.
It seems there is a stash of Ipads left over from the Olympics that it's being suggested will be used in stations as a substitute for humans. As one union member said: "If someone collapses what is the Ipad going to do? And what am I going to do with the ipad?"
Health and Safety was a massive concern for members and reps who have continually challenged cost cutting 'efficiency savings' which were already undermining our safety on the transport system.
One thing's for sure, this dispute has had a lot of challenging publicity. Yet despite that, RMT members said this was the most support they had received, as members of the public could see what these cuts would mean and have probably seen and been affected by many cuts themselves.
The liberal heart press started a vote on whether there should be a restricted service provided on strike days by key services. Unravelling another underlying attack that is begining to show itself up, in opinion polls the majority have voted no to this. Yet why didn't the Guardian ask who supported it?
Should TfL be a fully integrated not-for-profit service bringing back all maintenance and cleaning in-house? Now that would be an efficiency saving, the more so if the situation is ended where over 300 TfL staff receive over £100k while much of the workforce is paid peanuts.
The strike is supported publicly but most importantly by RMT and TSSA members who show what work they do on a day-to-day basis, without whom London begins to collapse.
It would be good to see more unions and activists supporting picket lines, encouraging others to attend and also most importantly looking to coordinate action. Together we are so much stronger and effective! Time for a 24 hour general strike!
"London Bridge isn't falling down, we're solid", an RMT activist on the picket line at London Bridge tube station told me. Pickets were getting messages that showed the strike was biting - "Stratford is in chaos", another picket said, looking up from her mobile.
Boris Johnson's propaganda was treated with a mixture of disgust and contempt. "He says he wants us workers to be more visible at stations, while sacking hundreds of workers". Many passengers had given up trying to catch the pathetically tiny service being run by managers. "We hope this strike will make management come back and talk to us", said a TSSA picket, "but if they refuse, we'll come out again until they do".
London shows that there is power in a Union NUT teachers' union National Executive member Martin Powell-Davies reports: http://electmartin1.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/london-shows-that-there-is-power-in.html
Report posted on 7.2.14:
RMT and TSSA pickets plus supporters from the local trade union movement numbered around ten outside Brixton station. The gates didn't open until 7.30am on the 6th, and not until 9.30am on the 5th, much later than management hoped.
Pickets told me the strike was solid. Around 8am, two managers came out. They demanded we stop "obstructing" the stairs, and got police involved with those who refused. Eventually their petty arguing moved us all off LU property - to less than two metres away. "That's why we have such a strong union", said one picket. "Because of gits like that".