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Solid strike on London Underground
The power of organised working class people was demonstrated resoundingly on 7 September. 11,000 London Underground (LU) workers were striking against job cuts.
Before dawn, driving past several tube stations on my way to Victoria in central London, there was an eerie emptiness as station after station still had its shutters down.
While LU management were making wild claims to the press about a third of the service running, the reality was being announced over the tannoy at Victoria station: "There is a very, very limited service running on the Victoria line and the District line." Then two minutes later: "The Victoria line is suspended".
The pressure on London's Tory Mayor Boris Johnson is such that he broke ranks with his own party by declaring that the Con-Dem cuts of 25-40% in London's transport budget will be "disastrous". Nonetheless he has supported the decimation of station staff, despite signing a petition against it when he was campaigning to be Mayor.
Three more strike days are planned in October and November.
Chris Newby met rail union RMT members leafleting at Euston station. They got a positive response from the public including a postal worker coming up to offer his support. One RMT member said that the manager at Euston underground station had said that he did not know how he was going to cope with the loss of five station staff.
Greg Maughan and Stuart Walker report that the strike in Loughton, Woodford and throughout the east of the Central Line was solid and well supported. One member of the TSSA on the Loughton picket said that this was the first time his union had taken strike action on the underground since 1935 and that it was about time too!
The strikers explained their first-hand experience of having to deal with safety-related issues, on the nightshifts in particular, and how the cuts would make this next to impossible. One picket explained how his son, who works on the gates at Moorgate, had turned away and disarmed someone trying to get on the tube with a samurai sword this weekend! When the police arrived it turned out he was also carrying two loaded firearms!
But management's blatant disregard for the health and safety of their staff and the public was shown on the strike day. Trains were sent through multiple closed stations. Fire regulations state that if three consecutive tube stations are closed, the whole line should be suspended.
Trains were sent along the Central Line from Epping purely so Transport for London could say 'the central line is running'. But commuters who thought they were in for a smooth ride got a shock. They were forced off at Leytonstone and had to climb over barriers and security fences to escape the station!
Michael Wrack and other Socialist Party members joined RMT members on their picket line at Liverpool Street station. The strength of the strike meant that none of the four tube lines running through Liverpool Street were operating.
One passenger did not support the action, repeating some of the lies about tube workers he had heard from the right wing press. But workers explained the reasons behind the strike, and gave concrete examples of the dangers of cutting staff. He was convinced and wished the workers success in their dispute.
Clare Doyle and Suzanne Beishon visited pickets at Seven Sisters where Transport and Salaried Staff members at Seven Sisters (Victoria Line) were happy to be on the picket line. "This is the first time we have been able to be out together and the 72% vote shows the strength of feeling", said one of the women. "Our jobs are under as much of a threat as those working beyond the gate-line. And the safety issue affects us as well! We are there to deal with assaults on the public, illnesses, accidents. Things will be a lot worse if they try and finish off our jobs."
On the same day as the RMT - TSSA tube strike there was a general strike in France and one in India. In Britain, BA cabin crews have voted for renewed action and the London firefighters will be fighting back against redundancy notices and attacks on their work rotas. The pickets at Seven Sisters certainly feel they are not alone and are prepared to continue the fight for "as long as it takes".
At London Bridge RMT picket Brian Valentine told Naomi Byron that: "When people took time to stop and talk about the reasons for the strike they could see we were presenting a valid argument."
At the Arnos Grove tube depot, Stephen Turnbull and Bob Severn joined pickets on Monday night and again at 4.30 am the following morning.
They were welcomed by the pickets but a parade of increasingly senior policeman seemed intent on keeping Socialist Party members separated from the picketers on the grounds of 'causing an obstruction'.
See London underground strike on this website for more detailed reports.
In The Socialist 9 September 2010:
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party youth and students
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party NHS campaign
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party feature
Socialist Party review