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4 November 2010
London tube strike - picket line reports
The third day of joint strike action on 3 November by RMT and TSSA rail unions on London Underground shut down 107 stations across the network.
Paula Mitchell, London Socialist Party
Socialist Party members again visited over 30 picket lines. Once again central London ground to a halt, with gridlock on the roads and crowds at bus stops.
Victoria station was strangely quiet, as if a lot of people had just decided not to try to travel. Once again the picket line got a good reception from the public. As one picket explained: "Things are starting to sink in with the passengers. There's been one or two high-profile incidents on the tube in the last couple of weeks, with people being stuck underground for hours and having to be escorted out on foot through the tunnels.
"This seems to have struck home with quite a lot of people that staffing the tube is about more than drivers".
It has become a very active picket, everyone is leafleting passengers and explaining their case.
One passenger came up to me to say: "Isn't everyone having to lose their jobs? Why are you so special? We all just have to take the cuts. If we all do what you're doing, it'll be like France!"
I explained the safety issue on the tube but also explained why the cuts are happening and how we all need to fight to make sure working class people don't pay such a hefty price for the bosses' and bankers' greed, and he said: "Oh well, if you put it like that I agree with you completely - we do need to be like France!"
The pickets think that if there is no resolution to the staffing cuts soon the strikes should be escalated.
Reg Johnstone, an RMT member said:
"Many rank and file Aslef members did not cross our picket lines. I think the strike this time was even more solid. There weren't as many volunteers to work. And we had really big support amongst passengers, very little abuse.
"It seems to be coming home to passengers the reality of what's happening. Even management have admitted that the massive failures on the network in the couple of weeks before the strike are due to ancient equipment.
"It shows the need to invest and the biggest asset of course is the frontline staff.
"Since the dispute began the number of threatened job losses has increased. At the start it was 800 mainly station staff, now it's 1,600-2,000 staff in all grades - station staff, office jobs.
"If they carry out these cuts it will become almost impossible to evacuate a deep level station".
Every strike day the picket lines and the strike action seems to gain strength. Today only two staff crossed the picket line at London Bridge station and one or two stayed on from the night shift, leaving commuters in the care of mostly office staff drafted in to the station for the day.
Naomi Byron, Tower Hamlets Socialist Party
"The station's only open because they've got untrained staff running it", said one picket.
A control room worker added: "Even when we're not on strike we occasionally have two duty managers covering the control room here and they're not trained for it.
"If something kicks off, an emergency, they've got no idea how to record the data or complete the relevant paperwork. That's potential evidence in a criminal trial.
"But me, if I make the slightest slip, I'll be called up in front of the disciplinary panel. It's double standards. But the public don't really know what's going on". Every picket we spoke to was enthusiastic about the idea of a national trade union march against cuts before the end of the year, as has been proposed by the PCS union.
One commented that strikes by tube workers and firefighters in London are in response to the first lot of cuts and a lot of people still don't realise how massive the cuts are going to be.
People on the picket line bought five copies of The Socialist and one Socialism Today. The public support that members of RMT and TSSA received on the picket line was good. Lots of people took leaflets to read the real reasons behind the dispute and some stopped to give their support.
One young woman who works at a law firm where most people oppose the strikes said: "I completely support you. Don't listen to what they say, they can't treat you like this". Unfortunately not everybody was prepared to listen to the tube workers, and one commuter actually hit a picket.
Pip Lawrence, who is one of the most friendly and helpful people you could hope to meet, explains what happened: "I was giving directions to a member of the public when someone just came up and hit me from behind on the back, then went off quickly.
"I pointed the man out to the police and they arrested him and took him away in handcuffs. I gave a statement to the police, who were very supportive and helpful.
"I can understand members of the public being frustrated. But why take it out on us when we're on strike to defend jobs and safety? If these cuts go through it's going to affect him as well as us.
"It's a shame because today the level of public support has been really good, a lot of people are saying they back us".
A strong RMT-TSSA joint picket line outside Loughton tube station demonstrated enduring determination in struggle. Over a dozen pickets were there. Tube workers were frustrated at being forced into more strike action by stubborn management.
James Ivens, Leytonstone Socialist Party
Peter Starber, TSSA local rep, stated: "Management is repeatedly trying to drive us backwards after all the steps we've made to make this a safe operating system".
However, workers reported they were ready to take further action if necessary. The necessity of saving the 1,000 or more threatened jobs and defending public safety was keenly felt.
Workers were also disgusted by the savage attacks on striking firefighters by scab workers earlier in the week which left some strikers hospitalised.
Support for the FBU action was strong and workers suggested the possibility of support at branch level.
Every person present took a strike bulletin produced by members of the Socialist Party within the RMT.
The pickets at Tower Hill were in a very optimistic mood. Mark and Jason from TSSA and Matt from RMT spoke to Socialist Party member Pete Dickenson.
No union member had gone through the picket lines. Also, this time no admin staff had volunteered to work, only managers were staffing the station. This is because admin are now worried about their jobs.
RMT and TSSA members are prepared to continue the action as long as necessary to get the threatened job losses reversed.
Election material for Socialist Party member Lewis Peacock, who is standing for election to the RMT's Council of Executives, was very well received.
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