The strike began at Euston station with a pre-strike rally and speeches to the press. RMT London transport secretary and NSSN steering committee member John Reid chaired a line-up of trade union movement speakers: Steve Hedley, RMT assistant general secretary; John Leach, RMT regional organiser; Chris Baugh, PCS assistant general secretary; Hugo Pierre, Camden Unison; Martin Powell-Davies, a member of the NUT executive; and David Ayrton from the GMB. Returning to Central London at 4:30am, we tooted and waved at TSSA pickets setting up at 4:30am as we drove to Kings Cross. “Its guerrilla tactics today” said a picket in a gorilla costume who we met at Kings Cross. Kings Cross underground normally open its gates at 4:50am. But the strike was 100% solid – not one worker was in and the doors were staying shut.
Pickets were encouraged by the level of public support. After an hour at Kings Cross we moved on to Euston where the underground station was shut and queues building. When we stopped for a tea we overheard commuters comment on how packed the buses were. Next we went off to a 3Cosas protest!
We wanted to show solidarity with 3Cosas workers who are going through a disciplinary hearing today. We spent a day with them on their strike battle bus last week and we again showed our support this morning by joining a noisy protest at the University of London.
We then drove through very heavy traffic to Victoria to visit more tube pickets. We passed heaving queues at bus stops. On our way we passed: Russell Square station – shut, Holborn – shut, Temple – shut.
At Victoria there were 20 friendly picketers. A retired union member had travelled for hours to come to support his former colleagues. These RMT and TSSA members, like others across London, are showing how important they are for the underground service and their dedication to saving jobs, terms and conditions.
Fifteen striking workers from both the RMT and TSSA trade unions joined the picket line at the depot outside Leytonstone station.
Very few workers were willing to cross the picket line, including only a handful of drivers. The majority of drivers on the Central Line are already organised in the RMT and striking with their colleagues today.
Steve Hedley, RMT assistant general secretary, joined the picket line while visiting others across London.
He said: “We’re on strike to defend 950 jobs on stations, and stop deferred pay cuts of between £5,000 and £10,000 for staff. The strikes have been very solid and well supported, and we’ve got a very high degree of public sympathy”.
Barking and Upminster
NSSN supporters visited picket lines at Barking station and Upminster depot. Both saw well-attended picket lines of RMT and TSSA members. Confidence was high and the mood was good. Those picketing were not primarily station staff (Barking and Upminster stations are run by C2C not Transport for London), but the union members present argued that if management get away with attacks on station staff, then other sections of the TfL workforce will come under attack.
Workers shared graphic illustrations of the safety risks to underground users if cuts in staff were to go through. “99.9% of the time, everything runs smoothly, but it is when that 0.01% chance occurs that you need trained staff. If these attacks go through, there will be a tragedy”.
Already during the strike there had been instances of managers directing trains into one another (averted by alert drivers) and of wheelchair users unable to get off where they want because platform staff had not had the training to use the ramps.
In Upminster, the main gate to the depot is on a busy road and there were lots of cars tooting. Building work is taking place within the depot and many builders stopped to show their support for the picket line.
One striking admin worker even stopped by to bring the picketers supplies of bacon sandwiches! Some trains had gone out from Upminster, but as the RMT and TSSA members there argued, the drivers will be next if they do not join the fightback. But in both Barking and Upminster the picket lines turned people away, and pre-strike discussions had helped to persuade others.
As a gloomy day broke, the numerous, confident and mainly female pickets at Morden depot and station were in cheery mood. The unprecedented late start to a thin service and closed stations were evidence of solid support.
Pickets also commented on the high level of support from station staff and a generally more positive attitude from the public than during previous disputes. Even the weather had improved. Unlike a previous Northern line dispute, there was no snow.
NSSN supporters visited picket lines at Edgware Road, Neasden, Acton Town and Northfield. They were all full of confidence and defiant. Over a dozen pickets at Edgware Road looked on while a manager tried to open the station gates but couldn’t find his keys! He then asked the striking workers if they had a set and funnily enough they didn’t! At Neasden, no trains were on the move at all. At Acton Town, the RMT rep and NSSN supporter Gary Harboard made bacon butties in his camper fan to feed the pickets who were buoyed up by the fact that no Piccadilly trains were running.
Elephant and Castle
A manager attempted to open the station but at 7am notified people it was closed. RMT members said it was because they had got some drivers (in the union Aslef) and 10 trains ready as it’s the main starting point of the Bakerloo line, but without signallers and controllers they could not go ahead.
“London Bridge isn’t falling down, we’re solid”, an RMT activist on the picket line at London Bridge tube station told me on 5 February. Pickets were getting messages that showed the strike was biting – “Stratford is in chaos”, another picket said, looking up from her mobile. Johnson’s propaganda was treated with a mixture of disgust and contempt. “He says he wants us workers to be more visible at stations while sacking hundreds of workers.”
Many passengers had given up trying to catch the pathetically tiny service being run by managers. “We hope this strike will make management come back and talk to us,” said a TSSA picket. “but if they refuse, we’ll come out again until they do.”