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Tube workers to strike to defend jobs and safety

By Jeremy Dewar
RMT members on the London Underground have voted by 77 per cent to strike against nearly 1,000 job cuts and the proposed closure of all 268 ticket offices by 2015.

This is a serious attack on all tube workers and users. Not only could it leave travellers stranded and unable to buy a ticket, it would also represent another step towards a totally automated service, with driverless trains on one of the world’s busiest underground rail networks.

Mayor Boris Johnson tried to sugar the pill by announcing plans to run the network for 24 hours a day on weekends.

But how safe will that leave cleaning and inspecting the tunnels, or the increased fire hazard this will mean if there is no downtime for these tasks? Understaffing stations is a threat to safety.

The argument that closures are necessary to pay for 24-hour weekend opening is entirely bogus. The £42 million annual savings made by the cuts is in fact only made necessary by the £78 million reduction in London Underground’s budget by Transport for London. In any case, if you were looking for money, the incredible wealth of the City of London isn’t exactly that far away.

Similarly, the claim that there will be no compulsory redundancies, and that 250 jobs will be created to ensure that stations are always staffed also misses the point. In a period of mass unemployment, job cuts mean families unable to afford to continue to live in London and school-leavers rotting on the dole. Indeed, London Underground’s own propaganda about the changes claims that there will be an extra 1.6 million people living in London by 2030, but only an additional 600,000 jobs.

The bigger picture is an enormous attack on the service. More will follow this year’s £78 million budget cut: a colossal £270 million by 2020. Ultimately, Johnson and the tube bosses want driverless trains, so they never have to see another tube strike bring London to a standstill ever again, with all the cost to big business and the City. The idea of trains with no one on them to take charge in emergencies and guide passengers to safety, as drivers did during the 7 July 2005 tube bombings, should be hair-raising.

It is a great start to the campaign that drivers and other grades have voted so heavily to defend station members’ jobs. This is the strength of an industrial union.

It is also significant that the union has called two 48-hour strikes in quick succession. However, if London Underground refuse to back down, with the ambitious Tory Johnson pulling the strings behind them, or if they organise a scabbing operation, then tube workers will need to picket out Aslef members and extend the action to an all-out indefinite strike.

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