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Action Stations!

31 March 2014

The London Underground dispute has seen TSSA members take strike action to defend jobs and maintain the services used by millions of passengers a year. Whilst the action is currently suspended for talks, we look at what we’ve achieved and what comes next.

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London Underground’s refusal to meaningfully negotiate on huge changes in the way that stations are staffed pushed TSSA and RMT members to take strike action in the first week of February. In a significant misjudgment, the Mayor seemed to relish the prospect of a strike, not crediting the public with being able to see this was a dispute about maintaining services and safety, not about ‘greedy workers’.

Support for the strike amongst members was solid, with the impact exceeding expectations. Despite TfL’s propaganda of a ‘normal service’ and the suggestion of an ‘army of volunteers’, the results were clear for all to see. While the Mayor’s cheerleaders in the media sought to tell their usual story of unions ‘holding the city to ransom’, the public largely accepted that the dispute was caused by Boris Johnson reneging on his direct promises to Londonders. ‘No ticket offices will be closed, alright? They’re not going to be closed. The answer to the number of ticket office closures is: nil’, Boris Johnson had told the London Assembly. Much of the public therefore understood why tube workers were angry and determined to take action, especially when they saw the Mayor refuse to meet Manuel Cortes and Bob Crow when they attempted to talk to him at City Hall.

Dozens of TSSA picket lines were held across the capital, with a ‘battle bus’ of activists, including TSSA’s president and general secretary visiting many of them. Leafleting of the public reinforced the message that this was a dispute about the service they receive, not the wages we are paid.

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Movement at talks as LU acknowledge public mood

Talks resumed at ACAS immediately after the first two day strike, with the clock ticking to follow-up action the next week. The employer’s attitude had rapidly shifted from one of belligerence and threats to one where at least serious discussion could take place. Before the strike, staff posts were already in the process of being lost as severance applications were taken forward and online ‘learning tools’ were being promoted for the new roles, the content of which was still theoretically being consulted on. As regional organiser Wayne Geoghegan says, “Before the strike, LU were implementing, not talking. We shifted them overnight to talking, not implementing.” This allowed space for the serious discussions which could have taken place in the months before, were it not for the obstructiveness of the employer.

In return, TSSA and RMT suspended the industrial action, with reps now negotiating day in, day out, over a seven week programme of talks. Progress is described as ‘slow’, with a report due to be given to ACAS in early April. Reps are working hard to try and reach a satisfactory deal, but LU would do well to remember the industrial action remains merely suspended, not cancelled, and can be resumed at any point. The ballot mandate is live and reps will be assessing what progress has been made at the conclusion of the consultation period.

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London Assembly: ‘Consult the public first’

Shortly after the strike, the London Assembly passed an advisory motion by 15 votes to nine saying the Mayor “must instruct Transport for London to conduct a full public consultation on the Fit for the Future programme. This should include producing a plan for each station affected, including details of what the staffing provision there will be and how services will change.”

Backing TSSA’s call, the Assembly motion also said, “We believe that the Mayor and Transport for London should develop and adopt a ‘Passengers Charter’ which clearly sets out the minimum service level they can expect to receive from TfL.”

Labour member Val Shawcross, who proposed the motion, said, “It’s the consumer and democratic right of Londoners to have a say about transport changes that will directly affect them, which is why we believe there should be a station by station consultation with input from the public.”

There’s been no sign of this happening yet, but in the absence of an official consultation, we plan to work with Assembly members to initiate one ourselves.

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Lies, damn lies and statistics

The Mayor, TfL and assorted Tories from the Prime Minister down have sought to claim that ticket offices are barely used by the public – and used and abused a number of statistics to try and make this point.

TfL were widely quoted as saying “just 3 per cent of Tube journeys involve a visit to a ticket office”. What they were less keen to publicise is that about 1 in 5 ticket sales at a station take place at a ticket office. For example, in May 2013 ticket offices sold 2.8 million tickets, whilst machines sold 9.4 million – so 23 per cent of passengers opted for a ticket office.

On average, 93,000 passengers a day – or 34 million a year – make a ticket office transaction, with more still visiting for advice – a vast number to withdraw a service from.

42 per cent of ticket office users at gateway stations surveyed by TfL were visitors to the UK and 34 per cent very infrequent LU customers. Shifting these customers, unfamiliar with the network, on to ticket machines is liable to inconvenience many regular customers by significantly slowing down queues at major stations.
 

The struggle continues

The strong stand that members have taken has of course not merely been motivated by the proposed cut in total staffing levels, but by many of the specifics of the new grades and the interactions between them. Significant safety concerns are also a key concern. There have been scores of points across seven distinct strands upon which our negotiators have been seeking to make headway.

When the current round of negotiations close in early April, we hope to have seen significant and satisfactory progress, however we also have to prepare for this not to be the case. Your reps will be taking important decisions on how to respond to best protect your interests going forward – feel free to get in touch to feed in your thoughts. A union is at its strongest and its members best protected when we speak and act as one. Get involved, recruit any colleagues thinking of joining and prepare for some big decisions in April.

 

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