The worrying truth behind the tube strikes that should concern every Londoner

TSSA’s negotiating team will return tomorrow (Wed) for further talks with London Underground (LU) at Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service ACAS to try resolve the long running Tory-made dispute about under-staffing on the Tube and and as a consequence, the serious decline in the network’s safety standards. But Sadiq Khan’s Labour administration has now been in City Hall nearly eight months and our members hopes that he would make a difference are turning to anger as LU management drag their feet.

Our negotiating team are scheduled to continue engaging in ACAS talks with LU for the reminder of this week. But, frankly, this dispute has been going on for far too long and our members patience is running wafer thin. Due to chronic staff shortages, they have been exposed to spikes in both verbal and physical abuse from irate passengers which have no place in our society - never mind the workplace.

We in TSSA will do all we can to secure a deal by the end of this week. However, the Mayor, TfL and LU must be aware that continued failure to do so on their part, will inevitably lead to more strikes in the immediate future. Let's hope common sense prevails and a deal can be reached that makes our Tube safe once again for both passengers and staff.

You see, when we say this is a dispute about safety, we mean exactly that. TSSA members safety at work is a vital issue for our union. Their own safety at work is of course, a big issue for them. But their fears for their ability to keep London’s Tube passengers travelling as safely as possible is now the prime motivator of this dispute. And the longer negotiations drag on, the more heated they are becoming at what is looking like a conspiracy by their bosses to con Tube’s passengers into believing they are traveling safely. 

Our members should be commended for their public service. Their solidarity and sense of duty towards the public they serve -at the tube's 270 stations - is exemplary. Their determination to resist these unsafe cuts is why their refusal to work overtime since the beginning of December continues to remain solid - despite the very handsome financial bribes being made to them to break their own ban. It is why our strike this month was solid and why our strike mandate remains valid.  

Londoners know that their unionised rail workers are the primary guardians of their travelling safety. Despite yesterday’s ridiculous Evening Standard headlines claiming Londoners wanted tube strikes curbed, the paper's own Ipsos Mori Poll actually revealed majority of 61pc of the 1300-plus respondents actually want railworkers to retain their right to strike - without further limits being imposed.

Transport Focus’s own annual Passenger Survey published today showed overall satisfaction with rail journeys continues to decline again this year.  Value for money and failing punctuality are passengers biggest complaints nationwide - not rail unions, nor their members, nor their right to strike.   

Mayor Sadiq Khan is right to describe the dispute as "historic." It is. And blame for it lies squarely at the doors of the Tories. In November 2015, in what would turn out to be his final Autumn statement, Chancellor George 'cuts' Osborne, announced that Transport for London (TfL) was to lose its central government operating grant, effectively making our capital the only major city on the planet to run a public transport without an operating subsidy.

The first phased withdrawal of the subsidy was immediate and Tory Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, didn't raise a murmur of protest, let alone lead the resistance against them. Rather, he axed nearly 900 jobs, closed all the ticket offices and his re-calibrated, automated "Fit Fit the Future (FFtF)" design was quickly described by my members as “not fit for purpose”. Our union protests to Boris fell on deaf ears. Not once in his eight years did he ever meet with any union leader. He ran London for the 1% not the 99%.  

TSSA took our very real concerns to Sadiq's Mayoral Campaign Team whilst he was running for office and, to our London Assembly members. We even consulted with former Shadow Home Secretary, Andy Burnham's team, so alarmed were we at the speed and severity of the cuts which saw standard tube safety practices abolished without due diligence. Our members believed the Tory government, aided and abetted by the Tory mayor, were abdicating their very first responsibility of government: to ensure they keep our people safe. Our members were scared for public safety. They remain scared. And with reason. 

Publicly, we were always very concerned about the loss of ticket offices and their replacement by ticket only vending machines, which have just three functions compared to the multiple functions available at a staffed ticket office and, therefore meant standards of passenger service - in management speak "the customer experience " - would plummet and place our customer service members facing soaring levels of abuse, even violence from furious passengers. 

Privately though, our (remaining) customer service members were also losing sleep because they knew safety standard to control people-congestion introduced following the Kings Cross Fire which killed 31 people, were being abandoned. Despite Tube passenger numbers have grown in millions since the 1989 disaster, the entire grade of 242 CCTV supervisors were abolished. These members skillfully monitored our Tube's 10,000 security plus cameras to protecting against congestion dangers, as well as other security threats, were abolished in one-go and the staff “redeployed” onto platforms. The Johnson Jobs Cull quite literally blinded the Tube by gouged out the eyes of it's safety protocol. 

To his credit, and to the great relief our members, Sadiq pledged to review Tube security in his Mayoral election. But even by his victory day in May, our Tube members were increasingly fearful at work. And increasingly fatigued. The use of overtime to fill the gaps had become instantly systemic. Our Tube could function only because of our members good will to fill in the roster gaps as not enough staff were now employed to keep our Tube open. The new systemic stress was further enhanced by the new system of stand-alone customer service assistants which still means staff have to be alone and isolated on platforms or gate lines and therefore highly vulnerable to abuse. The new standard-issue iPad for platform staff was kitted with an app which staff could use to report verbal or physical abuse. It had 2000 separate hits by September but, our reps reported, no member of LU staff had been reassigned to deal with the complaints. And iPads looked less smart, more stupid, when our members began to report being mugged for them!

Six months on from the so called Fit for the Future (FFtF) introduction, and with staff-morale on the floor, TSSA conducted our own Tube staff safety survey to assess the impact of it on our frontline. The responses were alarming.  82% of our members felt less safe with 13% reporting feeling dangerously unsafe, since Boris introduced FFtF working practices in April 2016. And an astonishing 79% of our members reported experiencing an increase in verbal or physical abuse. All of them had been called "c*nt" by passengers who had lost money, couldn't get change, couldn't replace their Oyster cards, had their card withheld and many had been told they were "f*cking useless" because under the changes our members had been left with no ability to remedy problems with ticket machines. Our members sleep patterns were disrupted, they were fearful, their work and life balance was out of kilter and they felt poorly-led and un-listened to.  

They were also disappointed that months after the election of a Labour administration, no effort had been made to use Sadiq's democratic mandate on security to speedily restore safety standards to our Tube. Following the bomb scare at Greenwich North, which revealed the Boris staff cuts had left even basic evacuation produces in tatters, their disappointment turned to somewhere between impatience and fury and why feelings are their patience is now at breaking point. Our strike earlier this month was solid. Just ten trains ran at peak time. Management spin that they had kept trains running were just pathetic lies.

Sadiq has been charged with a massive-mopping up exercise on our Tube because Boris and the Tories have imposed such misguided and dangerous cuts on it. It is a dispute caused by the Tories but, it is Labour who must provide the solutions. Our Labour Party must stand up for public transport in London.  Another round of Tory cuts are imminent. Labour needs to lead the campaign against them. Labour must pledge to restore TfL's operating grant within the first 100 days of being next in government. But it falls to to Sadiq lead the reconstruction of relationships between the city's  transport leaders and a Tube workforce which strongly feels their protection and, the protection of their passengers. has been disregarded at the highest levels. Sadiq must use his democratic mandate to intervene in the dispute. He must tell LU to pull their finger out and put back more staff to make our Tube safe once again. LU knows what is needed on the table by Friday to get a deal. If they fail, Sadiq will have to deal with the consequences. Our members are already angry as they believe he is turning a deaf ear to their heartfelt pleas to make our Tube safe once again.

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