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Transport workers break the mantra

At last – a group of workers have broken through the mantra of There Is No Alternative, pumped out by the government and the mass media.

Around 10,000 trade unionists belonging to the Rail Maritime and Transport Union (RMT) and the Transport and Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) are defying the Lib-Con coalition’s mantra that civilisation as we know it requires massive cuts in public services, including public transport. They faced down a propaganda barrage by London Mayor Boris Johnson as they walked out yesterday on their 24-hour strike action.

Their action is in protest against Transport for London’s 800 job losses planned amongst station and platform staff to meet the spending cuts sought by the Department of Transport. Both unions say that cutting ticket office staff levels will endanger passenger safety.

Maintenance staff stopped work at 5pm on Monday, followed by drivers, signallers and station staff later in the evening. In a separate dispute maintenance staff employed by Alstom-Metro on the Jubilee and Northern Line held a 24-hour strike from Sunday evening. More stoppages are planned for October and November.

The strikes shut down large sections of London Underground, despite efforts by management to recruit skeleton staff. The RMT pointed to a London Underground circular which appealed for volunteers, including workers without the required Operational Licenses or with lapsed licenses in clear safety breaches.

RMT General Secretary Bob Crow said that London Underground were prepared to cut any and all corners in order “to bulldoze through their lethal cocktail of job and safety cuts. Sending out a few volunteers without the necessary Operational Licences and training to try and run a handful of trains is a disaster waiting to happen.”

The union says that such attempts to undermine the strike action “go to the very heart of the dispute which is all about London Underground hacking back staffing levels and cutting corners on safety in a dash to slash costs, regardless of the implications for the travelling public.”

“Instead of playing fast and loose with safety it is about time that the Mayor and his officials took the issues as the heart of this dispute seriously, removed the threat of these savage cuts from above our members heads and cleared the way for meaningful talks aimed at protecting safety and safe staffing levels,” Crow insisted.

The strike has won considerable public backing. A poll conducted by LBC radio found that 73% of respondents backed the unions with only 26% supporting the employers at Transport for London. A separate poll conducted by YouGov showed that 60% of those surveyed believed that transport workers should have the right to strike, as opposed to 31% who disagreed. Fellow rail workers in the Zimbabwe Amalgamated Railway Workers Union (ZARU) have sent a message of support.

Keen to keep his job as Mayor of London, Johnson claims to oppose the 25% to 40% cuts in transport spending he says are demanded by the Coalition Treasury. Writing in yesterday’s Evening Standard, Johnson said that “cuts of that order would be disastrous for London transport network”. He wants the Crossrail project to continue - but clearly at the expense of London Underground staff.

Hiding behind the clear need to modernise and improve the Underground system the Mayor has accused the RMT of “cynicism” and “Luddism”. The union, Johnson claims, is staging a “trumped up and politically motivated attempt to have a pop at the Coalition government”.

But as TSSA leader Gerry Doherty, whose members voted 72.6 per cent in favour of strike action, says: "These cuts are being driven by the Government as much as by Boris so our battle is with Downing Street as much as TfL.”

Developing a modern and ecologically sound transport system is impossible over the backs of those who work in it. It requires not only the end of the Lib-Con coalition but fundamental economic and social change as outlined in A World to Win’s Manifesto of Revolutionary Solutions.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win Secretary
7 September 2010

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