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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10 Responses to Why I’m choosing to strike

  1. Ben Lawrence says:

    do you not think that having your employers put in £7 for very £1 you put in very excessive? I can’t think of any other pension plans that do that, are you sure thats right?

    Also no other CSA would start at £26k, it seems the wages and benefits of working for tcl are extremely high already.

    I do however agree with your right to strike but you have got it better than most already. Couldn’t there be some giving on the part of your staff to reduce true wage and pension bill to a realistic level?

    • lornatooley says:

      The pay and benefits are high, but I think that’s because of strong union bargaining. It is comparative to the rest of the UK rail industry and without belittling the very difficult job that customer service assistants in other industries do, our guys are paid slightly more for their procedural knowledge. They are all trained for example to evacuate people from trains onto the track, to deal with evacuations and levels of overcrowding you wouldn’t see elsewhere. And of course there are the extreme shifts, the Sunday and bank holiday working, which other industries pay extra wages for. Then of course there is the high risk of assault.
      As for the pension, I’m sure it is probably one of the best in the country, but I would argue that it’s not excessive but rather that other pensions are not fit for purpose. Everyone who has worked hard deserves a dignified retirement.

  2. Lynda Yilmaz says:

    Beautifully written and full of passion. My daughter is a supervisor too, so I understand every word you say. Good luck. I fully support this action.

  3. les says:

    This is so true and I would like to add that the reason less people use the ticket office is because they are forced to use machines by stealth not so long ago you could top up less than fiver,buy a one day bus pass,a 2-6,1-2,1-4 and 1-6 one day travelcard at this moment in time you can only buy the 1-6 travelcard or top a minimum £5 at the ticket office all at the orders of management who still have the bare faced cheek to claim we run a world class service for a world class city when in reality you cannot use the service if you are too poor to pay for one of the most expensive travel systems in the world.I do not know which planet these managers are on it certainly is not mine as on mine most people are truthful

  4. David says:

    Is my travel card expensive? Yes. Do I track closures every weekend? Yes. Do I get delays nearly om daily basis? Yes. But tbh I would not change it for the world as at least I know that if I need help at a station, with my ticket etc there is somebody to help. If my oyster takes off more than it should its get corrected instantly. I may not get a seat om a train but I get on a train and am very rarely late to work because of it. Am I happy with the service then? Yes. I don’t think the staffing should change either as I think more staff at stations is better for everybody I’m and out of station. The amount of abuse and rudeness I see towards some staff is disgusting and from somebody who works in a customer service industry I think it’s embarrassing that there are people who thnk it’s acceptable. But fair play to the person on the other side I very rarely see them react negatively, and if they did god knows how the customer would act. in terms of pay it’s a free country and you have the right to earn as much as you can. Ask bankers and footballers.the pension is what it is and we are only annoyed because ours is nowhere near as good, the strike may affect my daily schedule but for two days to protect jobs that help my commute for the rest of the year. Sorry for the ramble, just get annoyed with all this moaning about commuting nightmares to work. Half of which are exaggerated

  5. Ian says:

    Stunning essay on staff life on LU.
    Contrary to a lot of current opinion, 95% of us like our job and the good interaction we have with the travelling public. We like the fact that we work in an iconic place and we would like to strive to keep OUR system in the forefront of Metro services across the world.
    When management realise that, our system really will be ‘World Class’.

  6. Paul Hench says:

    My partner works in a ticket office in central London. We discuss , every day, how things have been for that day. TFL say they need to make cuts cos its costing too much. Without naming stations, I am told that on her particular station, thousands of pounds are taken on a daily basis. It more than covers the cost of staff wages. I hear you say ” what about the running cost of the electricity to run the trains” I say ” TFL used to have their own power stations that were shut down. Why? This would help to be self sufficient for power. This move by Boris Johnson is a farce. There is no excuse for cutting jobs due to cost. There is no excuse for cutting staffing levels as this would put the public at risk. There has already been a stuff cut not so long ago and some ticket offices are stretched to the limit in staffin levels. They could do with more staff not less. Keep fighting the good fight.

  7. donna says:

    You talk about the bravery of the staff during the 7/7 bombings and I commend the staffs bravery but this is a very rare event. My husband fought in Iraq for half the money your train drivers get but I don’t see anyone fighting for the compulsarie redundancies being made in the armed forces. Maybe if underground staff didn’t strike at the drop of a hat and be so greedy then I may have more sympathy for this cause. Welcome to everyone else’s world.

    • lornatooley says:

      If they had a union then they would fight the compulsory redundancies. Because no one fought for them, does that make it right for them to have lost their jobs? I don’t think so. For the record, we do not strike ‘at the drop of a hat’ – the last Tube strike was in 2010. Many other workers and industries strike more than us.
      As for the greed you talk of, the greed that I would rather you berate, would be that of the politicians who have sent your husband and many like him into war, put his life at risk and then slashed so many armed forces jobs. All the while, they continue to abuse their expenses and take an 11% pay rise

  8. Kaysor Ahmed says:

    I fully agree.

    I came in to help on 7/7 as I lived local. It was scary checking an empty train in the dark in preparation to reopen.

    As for all the hype, all if us enjoy working for LU, despite some of the managers we have because of the camaraderie we have.

    With the amount of overtime colleagues do shows how short of staff we are and with previous attempts to cut staffing only to find they’ve miscalculated and had to recruit more than they cut.

    Give London a fully staffed railway without cutting corners.

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