Published 10 Feb, 2014
Last Tuesday, the United Kingdom’s National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) struck the London Underground, bringing the Tube system to a screeching halt. The 48-hour strike was brought on by management’s refusal to engage in negotiations with the union after announcing a plan to close every single ticket office throughout the Underground system, cutting approximately 950 jobs.
“We want no more stunts or PR baloney from [London Mayor] Boris [Johnson],” said head of the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) Manuel Cortes, whose membership is also slated to suffer layoffs as a result of management’s proposed cuts. “We want serious and detailed talks on our genuine fears for the safety and security of passengers and staff under these far-reaching plans.” These layoffs would leave many stations without any Underground employee supervision or aid to the riding public. A recent poll showed that the majority of Londoners support the strike measures, concerned about the effects that a marked decrease in station staff could have on their safety.
The London Underground carried over a billion passengers last year. Not only do ticket office workers help riders obtain tickets, they also give directions, assist those with impairments, act as a deterrent to crime, and give a human face to the system. “I don’t want to strike,” James, a Station Supervisor, told BBC London. He currently oversees a single station along with a colleague, but if the London Underground goes forward with the new plan, he would be in charge of supervising five stations solo. “This is the first time I’ve ever been on strike. But there are incidents every day — someone who is blind, or someone who wants guidance. Very rarely do you have one person at a station.”
The TWU of America stands in solidarity with London Underground workers and in strong support of the union’s strike action. Back in 2010, TWU Local 100 suffered the layoffs of 500 Station Agents employed by the MTA/New York City Transit in a spate of subway booth closings throughout the five boroughs. In the years since, there have been escalating numbers of complaints from both locals and tourists who are unable to navigate the system without the assistance of Station Agents. Those cuts put tremendous pressure on employees throughout the system, who have to scramble to fill the service gap left by those who were laid off.
Click below to watch RMT General Secretary Bob Crow talk about the Tube strike at a press conference.