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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