A London Underground Customer Services Assistant tells us why he’s striking today
Today I went on strike for the first time. This is something that a few years ago I would have found a ludicrous idea. To me, striking has always conjured up images of miners fighting with the police, French farmers burning sheep, and ‘Bloody Arthur Scargill’ as my Dad used to affectionately call him. Like most children, for many years my opinions of the world mirrored those of my parents. Strikers are troublemakers. If they don’t like their jobs, tough, who does? Either put up with it or leave.
My attitude towards the unions began to change last year when I joined London Underground as a Customer Service Assistant (CSA). During training, my class and I were approached by reps from the TSSA and RMT who explained their role and how they could be of use to us. The benefits offered seemed useful: free legal advice, accident benefits, and more. I opted to join the RMT simply because it was the larger of the two and the rep hung around afterwards to chat to us about the jobs we were about to start. Despite my obvious reservations I knew I could always cancel my membership if I wasn’t happy with their actions.
This nearly happened a few months later when an ongoing pay dispute threatened to boil over into a strike. London Underground Limited (LUL) had offered an increase which the unions had rejected and strike action seemed imminent. I totally disagreed with the TSSA/RMT stance, feeling that asking for more in the current financial climate was unreasonable especially as I felt we already got a good wage for our job. I worked much harder for a lot less money in my previous job as a warehouse manager. But as well as the issue of whether I felt a strike was financially justified there was another question to deal with. In this case, could I justify inconveniencing the very people I’m paid to help? The answer was a very definite no. If we had gone on strike I would have been too ashamed to look at our customers in the face the next day.
This brings me to today’s topic. It may seem hypocritical but I feel the current strike actions (and the ones which may follow) are the only way we have left to ensure our customers continue to get the service they pay for. LUL are intent on cutting nearly 2000 jobs. A large chunk of these are front line staff who customers have the most interaction with. They are the people who sell you tickets, help you when those tickets don’t work at the gate, top up your Oyster cards and all the other things passengers take for granted. London Underground is quite unique in how many front line staff it has, as anyone who has travelled on the Paris Metro or New York Subway will testify. This is something which LUL were proud to tell me when I joined the company and which Boris Johnson said he would ensure remained the case when he ran for Mayor.
If these cuts go ahead, travelling on the Tube will not only be less convenient but less safe. LUL claim this won’t be the case but that makes no sense. There will be fewer staff on duty which means fewer people to deal with situations such as unattended packages, fire alerts and customer accidents. Part of the cutback plan is to shut some of the quieter ticket offices on the network because they aren’t financially viable. I believe the extra security and peace of mind customers are given when passing through a staffed ticket hall late at night compared to an empty one is worth any loss the office may be making.
I feel I will be letting London Underground customers down if I don’t try to stop that from happening. Obviously I also don’t wish to see any of my colleagues made redundant (thankfully my job is currently safe) but my biggest motivation for giving up a day’s pay today was to try to ensure London Underground is able to continue providing the service customers expect from ‘A world class tube for a world class city’.