Point of view: “Today I went on strike for the first time”

Written by on November 3, 2010 in Uncategorized - 4 Comments

A London Underground Customer Services Assistant tells us why he’s striking today

Photo by tompagenet

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’.

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4 Comments on "Point of view: “Today I went on strike for the first time”"

  1. Tidy November 6, 2010 at 2:31 pm ·

    Whether or not he is right this time, the only reason they need to make so many cut backs so often is because everyone who works for them has gone on strike every year to artificially inflate their pay packets. It’s now to such an extent LU can barely afford to keep the tubes running whilst also paying out those ridiculous salaries.

  2. Ken November 5, 2010 at 7:59 pm ·

    So Paris and NY have fewer ‘front line’* staff. Does that make the Paris Metro and the NY Subway more dangerous places to travel than London’s Tube? If so, you may have a point. If not, get back to work – after all, by your own admission, you’re being paid handsomely to do so.

    *emotive phrase, but pretty meaningless.

  3. John November 5, 2010 at 3:40 pm ·

    I’m sorry, but this is ludicrous. The right to strike is to protect your own welfare and working terms and conditions. The right to strike is not in any way granted so that members, stirred up by unions with a massively overinflated idea of their own role in the operation of a business, can disrupt an entire city because they think they speak for customers.
    If customers dont like the lack of staff on the Tube then they can complain to TfL, or their MP, or the media, or any one of a million other valid channels and if feeling is strong enough then something will change.
    To suggest that this militancy is in any way based on empathy with customers is the weakest of smokescreens to cover up the fact that the unions will simply oppose any job losses regardless of their validity in a changing world.
    Unions and their members do not speak for Tube users and it is nothing to do with them how the business is run unless it directly affects their conditions or pay. It is not a partnership like John Lewis, you dont run the business, you work for it, you dont get a say in how its run. If your job remains the same then keep doing it and let the customers decide whether they like the service that is being provided.

  4. ASLEF shrugged November 5, 2010 at 10:49 am ·

    It’s all too late I’m afraid, the job cuts have been planned from the moment LUL decided to bring in Oyster. 250 positions that became vacant have not been filled and station staff have been stupid enough to cover them by doing overtime when they could have refused causing station closures which would have embarrassed LUL. 250 staff don’t leave the Tube over a few months, this has been going on for at least a few years.

    LUL/TfL have run a good campaign, going on and on about how some ticket offices do less than ten transaction an hour but never actually admitting there are only eight such stations, ignoring the 250 odd that sell ten or more. Why hasn’t anybody asked for the figures for all ticket offices?

    The Unions response has been predictably unimaginative; strikes, work to rule, overtime ban, but the only way they are going to save jobs is to get the public on their side. As LUL have identified 650 job cuts on stations they should be asked to show where they are going to be and how that will effect each stations ticket office hours. The public won’t realise the full implications until the job cuts have been implemented and by then it will be too late.

    Just before the first strike an internal email informed us that we were carrying more passengers that we had for the same period of any previous year so claiming that these job cuts are due to the recession is misleading. And if LUL say they won’t resort to compulsory redundancies just how long will it take for enough people to leave before all the job cuts can be made? Why is no one asking these questions?

    I wish you luck, my friend.

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