Growing up a girl 

I thought I’d jump on the bandwagon and post something for International Women’s Day. I was a bit reluctant as I didn’t want to seem like I was writing something just because that’s what everyone else is doing. Then I remembered something I wrote to a friend of mine and decided to share that. I wrote it a few months ago in response to some advice he’d asked and around about that same time I was having a debate with some female trade unionists on why I wasn’t more active on women’s issues. 

I’m a feminist. Obviously. But sometimes I don’t feel like I’m enough of a feminist for some. I’m sure other women don’t deliberately make me feel that way, but that’s how I feel. Sometimes. Like, I enjoy baking cakes, but put me in a kitchen with Mary Berry or Rachel Allen, I’m going to feel like the odd one out. Anyway, I won’t go into detail, but the advice my male friend asked me started something like this, ‘why do girls…….why can’t they just tell you what they want?’ 

This is (a tweaked version of) what I answered:

This is only my own opinion based on things I’ve seen and experienced growing up a girl. You have to go back, way back and start at the beginning, before the beginning. Before you’re even born, your parents are asked if they want a boy or a girl. Everyone already has an idea of what they’re getting depending on the sex of this baby. You’re the baby and you’re born a girl. They give you a pretty name, dress you in pink, in frilly dresses and call you a princess. You’re labelled from the offset. You start walking and talking and running around. You’re bought a dolly and it’s your job to look after her. A tea set. It’s your job to host a tea party with plastic cake. A dolls house, a Wendy house. Barbie gets a new dress and Action Man gets to kick arse.

You get a bit bigger. You play with the boys. You splash in puddles or try to climb trees. Oh but not today, your granny just bought you a beautiful new frock, you don’t want to ruin it. The boys? They can get muddy, cos, you know, boys will be boys. Girls are better behaved. Come sit with the adults. We’ll teach you how to make a sandwich or a cup of tea. You can do some colouring or something. In the Brownies you learnt how to arrange flowers. In Cubs they played football.

You go out to play with the boys and you have a laugh, but then someone decides you can’t play cos boys are better than girls. You cry to your mum. Boys don’t cry. Boys will be boys she tells you. Eventually you’re allowed to play with the boys again, but if you see anyone they know, you’ll have to walk behind them like you’re not together. After all they let you join in. Later you can play Nintendo, but of course you can’t be Mario!

I was lucky. I had a brother and I got to play with all his toys. Most of my friends were boys. I got to wear dungarees most of the time. I got to cut all my hair off when I was ten, but the hairdresser refused to shave it because I’d look like a boy. I even got mistaken for a boy once. Yay! I was a ‘tom boy’ and that made my dad proud. It was like having two boys. But I wasn’t a boy. I couldn’t be, no matter how much I tried. And you know what, I liked dresses and dolls and lipstick. I liked being a girl. But without all the bloody rules! 

I remember getting to about nine or ten and not feeling comfortable naked anymore. I couldn’t be topless in the summer anymore like the boys. We didn’t play kiss chase again. Suddenly people were kissing for real. Boys kissing. Cool. Girls kissing. Slutty. Anyway, back to growing up and it’s just about to get a whole lot more interesting.

You get a bit older and you start your period. Can’t go swimming. Can’t wear white. Sports? Better not. You sit and watch the others and you can’t join in. And you’re not allowed to tell them why. No one is allowed to talk about periods. You’re in this secret club now that only women are allowed into, but you’re ten-years-old – you don’t want to be a woman! And you are never wearing a bra! But you do. And everyone sees it through your school top and teases.

You’re walking to school at 12 years and a white van men tells you how sexy your legs are. You don’t know what to say. You don’t say anything because you’ve always been taught not to say anything because you don’t get a say on you’re body. It’s not your property. Don’t you remember? Give your uncle a kiss. Sit on granddad’s knee. Wear that pretty dress. You don’t want to? Go on, don’t hurt his feelings. I’ll buy you a lolly if you’re good. Girls are good. They’re better behaved. They do as they’re told – don’t cause a scene. 

So those lessons you’ve learnt you can bring them with you into womanhood. How many times has someone bumped into you and you said sorry? Have you ever said something like, ‘Sorry, could you keep the noise down’ ‘sorry is that seat taken?’ What have you got to be sorry for?! Imagine putting those lesson into practice in a more sinister situation. Your boss asking you to do something you know is against procedure, your partner telling you they don’t want you seeing your friends, that creep who’s hitting on you refusing to take no for an answer.

What do you do? What you’ve always been taught of course

I loved dollies too

Me throwing a strop cos I had to wear a frock for Nanny & my brother got to wear Turtles

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44% The Truth

So staff assaults on London Underground are up by 44%? Whilst I’m glad that this is making the headlines, my initial thought was, well, it’s only going to get worse. And that’s the worst part. My first thought, your first thought, everyone’s first thought should be of shock or disbelief that anyone should have to go to work and face the threat of assault. But that’s what we do every day and it is so common, it is expected.
The figures, highlighted by London Assembly member, Val Shawcross, show that between 2009/10 and 2013/14, assaults on Underground staff shot up from 1,917 to 2,753, whilst over the same period, frontline staff were cut by over 7,800. This proves that less staff means more assaults, something that the RMT Union have been saying for years. With the latest plans to cut almost 900 more jobs, how many more of us are expected to put up with abuse as part and parcel our job?
The BBC reported that the rise may partly be due to increased reporting of assaults and whilst I don’t disagree with this, I don’t think it paints a clear picture of life for Tube staff either. Verbal assaults are a daily occurrence. I do not know of a single member of station staff who has not been sworn at by a passenger. Yet the figures that have been published, do not represent what our staff know to be a reality. For some reason these types of incidents are under reported. I’ve got to say that officially the company encourage us to report all incidences of assault, but largely there is a culture of not reporting ‘minor’ incidents. I’ve been guilty of it myself, I must admit. Really, what is the point of reporting something that happens so often, but doesn’t seem to be taken seriously? Staff know that often they won’t get the support of their own manager when reporting abuse, the chances of catching the offender and gaining a conviction are slim and if you moan too much you’ll only end up being branded a trouble maker. And of course, everyone will react differently to an incident. One person’s minor verbal assault could be shattering for someone else.
Over time, we develop a thick skin. On top of the daily swearing, we have all been the victim of, or know colleagues who have been threatened or physically assaulted. I’m ‘lucky’ in that I’ve only been physically assaulted once. He punched me in the face because of a problem with his ticket. I was trained on how to spot potential attackers, how I should talk to them, how my body language could calm or inflame a situation. But I didn’t see it coming. The training didn’t help when I was crying and clutching my cheek on the gate line. My managers and colleagues were amazing, the incident was reported, but he was never caught. I was ‘lucky’ because the one time I was spat at, I was inside the ticket office. I was ‘lucky’ because each time someone threatened me with violence, rape or murder, they never acted on those words.
When I put on my uniform, I do not put on armour, exempting me from pain and fear. I do not invite you to make me the victim of your crime. No one goes to work wanting to be assaulted, so why must so many customer-facing workers continue to go to work expecting these things to happen. If someone were to assault me whilst I was going down the shop for some bread, people would rightly be shocked. They wouldn’t say, ‘well that’s the risk of wanting to eat bread!’
If every single verbal or physical assault that took place on London Underground was reported, do I think it would make a difference? No. I think that the Mayor is hell bent on eroding away frontline staff until he has satisfied his warped vision of ‘modernisation’. By moving staff out of ticket offices to the areas of stations where staff are most likely to be assaulted, he is exposing them to unacceptable levels of violence. More passengers + less staff = more assaults. I believe the Mayor is more interested in boosting his celebrity profile than protecting Tube staff from assault. Then we have his latest vanity project, Night Tube, which in reality will be an open invitation to crime and drunken anti-social behaviour.
Our police are already overworked and understaffed. I don’t know how they will be able to cope with the results of all-night running and savage reductions in the number of station staff. But they will be expected to. Will London Underground be paying for extra officers? How will the police have time to investigate the inevitable rise in assaults that will accompany the disgusting reduction in staff? Yet they will be blamed when they don’t catch a suspect or secure a conviction.

The truth is, there is only one person to blame for this and I think he should follow the lead of his onscreen lookalike and make a trip to The Wizard asking for a brain!

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National Coming Out Day. My tales.

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Can we Still be Proud of Pride?

Yesterday (Saturday 28th June 2014), I joined other RMT members to take part in London Pride. We collected our banners, flags and hi-vis before making our way to Baker Street and joining the TUC section of the parade, which featured over 200 groups and 30,000 people. The only London event larger than Pride, is the Notting Hill Carnival.
As we huddled together, six to an umbrella, in the unrelenting rain, we chatted and joked to keep our spirits high as we waited for the march to begin. Obviously, everyone else had the same idea, as from the double decker bus belonging to another union, came the deafening beat of Lady Gaga and then some other stereotypically gay tunes. I looked down at my placard, which read, ‘Commonwealth, End the persecution of LGBT people’ and I wondered where the hell am I?
Don’t get me wrong, I love a bit of Lady Gaga, though Artpop should be renamed Artflop, but what does it have to do with what Pride is really about?
The first gay pride marches took place in 1970 in response to the Stonewall Riots and London saw it’s first official march on 1st July 1972. Inevitably and encouragingly, these marches have grown and evolved, but I can’t help but feel that Pride has grown so big and so fast, that it is unrecognisable. It’s like that distant cousin you remember as a rosy-cheeked toddler and the next time you see her, she’s almost as tall as you, wearing make up and going on dates.
London Pride was started by a group of socialists, as an act of defiance and protest. It is true that the UK is now a safer and more equal place to live as an LGBT person, but we can’t forget the struggles and injustices still being faced by LGBT people here and abroad. LGBT people in Britain have been some of the hardest hit by austerity. LGBT people typically work in lower paid jobs and face higher levels of workplace discrimination, which are now near impossible to fight due to changes in Employment Tribunal rules. LGBT people also face higher rates of homelessness and are suffering from cuts to organisations that tackle these issues as well as sexual health and mental health funding being slashed.
The RMT theme for this years’ march was LGBT rights in Commonwealth countries. With the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow only days away, we felt we needed to speak out about the fact that 41 out of the 53 Commonwealth countries still have homophobic laws. By now (I hope), we are all aware of Uganda’s proposed ‘Kill the gays’ law, which only due to protests and international pressure was dropped in favour of a life sentence for anyone convicted of homosexuality. In Brunei, homosexuality is punishable by stoning. Stoning. Let that sink in…

So, as we marched (we didn’t parade!) in front of thousands of people, many of them cheering messages of support for the RMT and in dedication of Bob Crow, who was an avid supporter of LGBT rights, again I felt extremely proud of my union. This was the largest audience we have to share our message with, yet we were being overshadowed by cheesy pop songs, sequins and a bloke with a couple of flags down his pants. Surely other unions should know better. The music bus, for example, belonged to a brilliant, militant union, who have taken part in a recent string of strike dates due to massive attacks on their pensions and their industry as a whole. What a wasted opportunity!
I love the party atmosphere of Pride and sense of safety, belonging and acceptance that it creates. I know that it is welcoming and anonymous enough for people new to the LGBT community to feel safe to be themselves in public. In the town (in London), where I live, I have never seen an openly same-sex couple or as far as I know, a transgender person. I’ve seen very open racism, so I’m assuming these delightful specimens would also hold homophobic and transphobic views too. It doesn’t feel like a safe place to be LGBT.
So whilst I’m glad that Pride is a celebration, I think we should be reclaiming it before it gets out of control. Too many Prides have become too commercial. People have cottoned on to their growing popularity and made them into a money-making opportunity, selling tickets for admission and charging groups to take part in their parades. Cashing in on the ‘pink pound’ but forgetting that a lot of LGBT groups are barely keeping their heads above water and the LGBT people most in need of these events, of the inclusion and a safety they offer, are being excluded and discriminated against by being priced out.
Although, I disagree with some of the participants and sponsors of Pride, I agree wholly with Pride in London‘s mission statement, which is “to be fully inclusive of all sections of the LGBT+ community, free at the point of access; to provide a celebration of LGBT+ life and a platform to continue the fight for equality and to challenge prejudice” could someone please tell me how we will continue to fight for equality if our only weapon is a CD player?
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So, you want to break the strike?

No one was more disappointed to hear that the latest talks at ACAS had broken down than myself and the other RMT members working on London Underground. I don’t want to go on strike. I don’t want to lose pay. I don’t want to disrupt thousands of people’s commutes. But I do not have a choice. As Regional Organiser, John Leach, explained to all members in a statement today, London Underground were only willing to continue talks if we called off our dispute entirely, whilst they made no promises to save jobs or protect earnings, as well as revoking an earlier commitment to consider keeping some ticket offices open.
To me, the way a union works is simple. The clue is in the name. Whatever decisions we make – and we did decide, democratically, to take industrial action – we stand by those decisions together. If your union goes on strike, you go on strike. Simple. And you never, ever cross a picket line. That’s my view. That’s why I say that I have no choice but to strike. For me, it’s a moral obligation. Or not even that. It’s just the right thing to do and I couldn’t imagine the alternative. But of course, it is a choice and some people make the choice to work during a strike. When we’re at work, I will never hold that choice against you, but I definitely will struggle to understand it.
I’ve had conversations with people over the last couple of weeks about why they are choosing not to strike and I’ve heard the same arguments and justification time and time again. Well, these are my counter arguments to the main ones I’ve heard:

“I can’t afford to strike”
No one can afford to strike. We build our lifestyles around our incomes, so obviously losing two or three days pay a month is not ideal. Like many other RMT members, the financial loss will be doubled in my household, as my husband also works for LU and will be on strike. But it will be a short-term loss for a long-term gain. I’d rather lose a few days pay and sacrifice some luxuries, than lose my job or my pension. My first job was so poorly paid that I could only afford to eat once a day and I couldn’t even pay for a bus pass to get me to work. I couldn’t have afforded to strike. I was on a picket line this week with a colleague who is in serious debt. He can’t afford to strike, but he did. Last year, I stood on a picket line with cleaners from the Newcastle Metro. They couldn’t afford to strike, but they did, for 33 days and they won.
So my argument is, you probably can afford to strike. And if you genuinely can’t, your Branch will probably be able to help in some way. It’s worth asking before you make your decision.

“But I don’t work on stations”
Neither do I. But I’m still striking. I’m striking because this is not a stations dispute. This dispute is called Every Job Matters because it will affect every grade, in every area of the company. The money that will be saved by cutting 953 station jobs, closing all ticket offices and lowering salaries, amounts to only 6% of the total cuts being imposed. Where do you think the other 94% are coming from? Open your eyes! If they do this on the stations, they will do it where you work too. And if they get away with doing it on stations, your argument to stop them doing it in your workplace will be greatly diminished. If they cut job after job, who will be left to stand in unity with you when it’s your turn for the chop?

“I’ll be retiring soon anyway”
Well good for you! You’ll be retiring with a pension you’ve paid into your whole career – a pension I’ve been paying into since the age of 18 and will be for the next 40 odd years. But if the company cuts jobs, cuts salaries and attacks our pension, who will be left to pay in? What will be left to be paid out? Our pension is something that unites people from all grades. It is something the union has fought hard for, something we have all worked for, but if nothing is going in, nothing can come back out. So if you’re retiring soon or not, you will still be effected.

“Even if we strike, the cuts will still go ahead”
That’s possible. But as Bob Crow said, ‘If you fight you may lose, if you don’t fight you will lose’. The only way that we will win this dispute is with solid, strong and fully supported action. This entire dispute is political, whether you care about politics or not. These cuts have been imposed by the Tory government, to be implemented by a Tory Mayor, who was only elected because of the lies he told about keeping ticket offices open. It’s obvious that no business can stay exactly the same forever. Things evolves, thing grow, but at what cost? Surely it is clear to anyone that cutting almost 1000 jobs is not ‘modernisation’, it’s madness.
I know that people are scared about their futures and their job security. I am. But it is my belief that London Underground know this and are using it against us. I’m scared of a lot of things. But I try to live by the rule of ‘if it scares you, do it anyway’. There is an alternative to these cuts, which despite the propaganda you may have read, RMT has proposed to London Underground. I know it is not easy to fight, I know it is not easy to defend yourself, or others. But with a union, you are never alone.

Don’t lose faith. I’ll see you on the picket lines.

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Bob Crow. My hero

The first time I met Bob Crow, he came to my home town of Barking in East London to speak out about the BNP’s election campaign. I was just getting active in the RMT and to me, Bob was still very much the celebrity-like figure he was to so many. He was someone I admired and after hearing his impassioned speech, I was inspired.
I had a lot of contact with Bob over the next few years as I progressed within the union and I always found him to be pleasant and efficient. In 2013, I was honoured to be awarded with the RMT’s Award for Youth, which Bob presented to me at the union’s AGM. That’s when I really met Bob. He greeted me with a warm hug and a kiss, which he would do on all of our subsequent meetings. He was not a celebrity – he was just a very likeable bloke. When Bob spoke, he did so from his heart, so the kind and complimentary words he used to describe me will stay in my heart forever.
Everyone had an opinion on Bob Crow and a lot of people hated him. The same hypocritical, right-wing media and feckless politicians who yesterday called him a ‘baron’, who was ‘putting a gun to the head’ of London, today led the way in paying tribute to this great man. He was a great man. He was strong, fearless and successful – you would definitely want him on your side in a fight. He was all these things and so much more.
He was always available on the end of the phone. He always asked how you were and always listened for the answer. He cared about your problems and always did his best to find a solution. He knew everyone by name. He always kept his word. If he said he would be somewhere, he was there. Bob helped my RMT branch so much with our campaign against ticket office closures. Only in January, he stood with us, in the pouring rain to join our demonstration. He never let me down.
I recently described Bob as ‘sweet’ to a group of people who had never met him and I was met with bemused stares. Bob was far more complex and deep than his public image. He was funny and he was considerate. When he spoke about his partner or his family, his bright blue eyes lit up and he beamed with pride. Bob made people so relaxed and at ease. I was never afraid to say anything to him or challenge his opinions because he didn’t judge – he would simply explain his side and usually he was right.
Bob worked tirelessly to help the union’s young members. He was approachable, friendly and always there with a keen ear or valuable advice. He took us under his wing and was something of a father figure to many of us. That’s why he was our ‘Uncle Bob’ and that is why we can’t believe what has happened. Through tears, I am struggling with these words – these meaningless combination of letters and punctuation that could never begin to describe the devastation and sense of loss I am feeling. There are no words that do this man justice.
My favourite memory of Bob was a group of us singing and laughing in our hotel bar. During the day, he wore his suit and he did what he did best at our conference, but on that night, he was just Bob. He could switch off and relax, away from the public eye and endless criticism. He sang and he told jokes. He looked to his beautiful partner with such love and in that moment, I saw the real Bob Crow.
Today we have lost a legend. A light has been switched off and the world will be ever be a darker, emptier place. But a light so bright as Bob deserves to live on. His legacy must be the continuation of his hard work. We must continue to organise and grow. We must face every day and every challenge in the Bob Crow way – with determination and without fear. My friend today said that Bob Crow was like Marmite. Well I fucking love Marmite!

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Why I’m choosing to strike

When the news broke on 7th July 2005 that London had become the victim of a series of terrorist bombings, Underground staff were hailed as heroes. With confused reports of what had occurred and warnings by emergency services if the possibility of secondary devices, London Underground staff looked into the face of danger and the unknown and did their jobs. They walked into smoke filled tunnels and trains, evacuated passengers and aided the wounded. They stayed calm, surrounded by death and carnage and simply carried on.
I started work with London Underground the following year and feel honoured that I am able to work with a team of people like no other. It’s not something often spoken of, but I have heard people’s personal accounts of that dreadful day and I know that the people I work with embody all of the qualities and competences that were needed on 7/7.
Thankfully this has never happened again and I hope it never does again. Day-to-day life on London Underground isn’t all action packed. There are quiet days, busy days, normal days – just like in any job. During the six years I worked on stations, I regularly experienced or witnessed, staff assaults – physical, verbal and sexual, service disruptions, overcrowding, fights, robberies, accidents and people ill on trains. Occasionally, station evacuations and fires. My luck of the draw is that I’ve never been directly involved in a dreaded ‘one under’ but I know from all accounts it is not nice. (Understatement of the year by me!)
A Customer Service Assistant (CSA) on London Underground earns £26,000 a year. During my time as a CSA and later a station supervisor, I was punched in the face because I asked to see someone’s (stolen) ticket, I was spat at, called names, propositioned, threatened with violence, rape and murder. I witnessed my colleagues being subjected to the same treatment along with racial and homophobic abuse. A CSA on my station had someone expose himself to her, many female staff I know have been ‘touched up’ and a normal Friday night involved interrupting people urinating on stations and avoiding puddles of vomit.
All of that was worth it for the days I helped people ill on trains and prevented ongoing impact to hundreds more people’s journeys. It was worth it for the day I waded through a giant bin because a customer had accidentally thrown away her mobile phone. It was worth it for all the times I reunited people with their lost possessions, children or dogs. It was worth it for the ‘hello’ and the Christmas cards from our regulars. It was worth it for the friendships I have made with my colleagues.
I love my job. I love it for all the reasons above and in spite of all the reasons above.
One of the most valuable things to come with my career is the pension. For every £1 we contribute, London Underground puts in £7 to this final salary pension.
This strike is not because we are scared of modernisation. I welcome modernisation and I am so excited to see this fantastic service grow and evolve in line with the inevitable increase in passenger numbers. Modernisation does not mean slashing almost 1000 jobs. If you take 1000 jobs away, that is 1000 less people paying into the pension fund. If you make everyone reapply for their jobs and downgrade hundreds of people, with the potential of a £10k pay cut, that is hundreds of thousands of pounds per year not going into the pension fund. If hundreds of people’s final salary is cut by £10,000, what sort of pension does that leave?
If you take away 1000 jobs, how can you run a safe and reliable service? Who will evacuate your train or station in an emergency? Who will secure points and carry out other safety critical procedures to react to a service problem and minimise delays and disruptions? Who will make you feel safe when you are traveling alone at night? And what if I told you that these cuts account for only 6% of the total cuts that TfL need to make?
Bob Crow said that this is ‘a drop in the ocean’ and he is right. I don’t work on stations any more. I hear daily conversations about this won’t affect you, this won’t effect so-and-so, so why do you care? More than anything, these plans are destructive and they are wrong. Also, I like to have a long term plan. For now my job is still there, but for how long?
So I’ll see you on the picket lines.

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