Hundreds joined an online rally on Wednesday evening to say loud and clear: no funding cuts to Transport for London!
The joint union rally had speakers from TSSA, RMT, Aslef, Unite and disability rights group Disabled People Against the Cuts (DPAC), as well as representatives of young people and pensioners. Anyone with a reliance on public transport was there to speak loud and clear how important TfL is for the capital and its people and the need to take political point scoring out of a funding deal to protect services for all.
The rally was the first time that transport unions have got together in an online forum, welcoming participants over Zoom and broadcasting the rally live simultaneously on YouTube, with hundreds tuning in over the hour-long event.
Chairing the rally, RMT National President Michelle Rogers outlined the joint demands:
- No cuts to services
- A fully funded, green public transport network, meeting air quality targets for Londoners
- Full restoration of central government funding
- No job cuts or deterioration of terms and conditions
Lorraine Ward, TSSA’s Organising Director with responsibility for TfL, addressed the rally, starting by recognising that "each and every one of us continue to live with the effects of this virus", saying "some of us have lost friends, family or colleagues."
In a whistlestop run through of funding facts, Lorraine explained how TfL has lost a "staggering" £600 million every month since lockdown, pushing it to the brink of collapse. This comes off the back of major funding cuts implemented when Boris Johnson was Mayor of London and “colluded” with the Tory government to cut TfL’s funding by over £700m a year, leaving London the only major city in the world without public funding for transport. This led to 20% staff cuts with a further 30% announced by 2022; over 2,500 back and middle office jobs cut with a five year pay freeze for those remaining.
"But ironically" Lorraine told the rally, "TfL now spends over £25 million every year on management consultants, who tell Directors how to cut jobs."
Pointing out the highly politicised environment around TfL’s funding arrangements, Lorraine called the government’s funding package "woeful" and coming from "a former London Mayor in 10 Downing Street looking to score points against the current Mayor." In a revealing comment, she continued:
"My union is calling for no cuts to TfL services; the restoration of the central government grant; and no job losses," Lorraine told the rally. "This is a question of economic, environmental and social justice."
The rally also heard passionate speeches from other speakers. RMT Assistant General Secretary Steve Headley condemned recent funding cuts and warned that the fallout from covid-19 could lead to "not only a recession but a depression". He went on to criticise the actions of big business, saying: "We’ve already seen from British Airways what the bosses will do – firing and then re-hiring on less pay and worse conditions. As workers, we can’t allow that to happen."
Cheryl Beckford, a Unite TfL shop steward and equality rep, gave a rousing speech on the “stark” impact of covid-19 on the BAME community. “While we’re in the same storm, we’re not in the same boat”, she said. “We see the racial inequalities which black people face every day. Social justice can no longer be ignored. We need to stand together to make change happen now."
The voice of young people was raised by Oisin Mulholland, East Ham Labour Party and Prospect member, who condemned the loss of free travel for under-18s. Highlighting the many cuts to youth services, Oisin said:
"Under-18 free travel is a triumph of our transport system and our city. Free travel is key to get to the galleries and museums in central London as well as to school and college. The reality is that fewer students will now be able to go to college as families struggle to find that money.”
Paula Peters of Disabled People Against the Cuts (DPAC) sent solidarity from all disabled people. She highlighted the disproportionate effect of coronavirus on disabled people, telling the rally she had been shielding for 12 weeks.
Finn Brennan from train drivers’ union Aslef brought the focus back to the political situation. He said: “The reality is that the government has already taken control of TfL, put their people on the board and left the London Mayor at the top of the tree but with no power.”
As it drew to a close, the rally took a moment to think of all those transport workers who have lost their lives to coronavirus during the pandemic.
Michelle’s closing words to rally attendees were: “London depends on us.”