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The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Battles on the Tube

by New Worker correspondent

THE TRINITY of rail unions, ASLEF, RMT and TSSA, have denounced plans to run more trains in a letter to the Prime Minister and leaders of the devolved assemblies. The unions point out that they have worked during the crisis to ensure key workers are able to get to work and to move essential medical and food supplies. They demand that company profits must not come before people’s lives however, and the lockdown should not be lifted until it is safe to do so.

In particular, they warn “that attempts by operators to increase service levels sends out a mixed message that it is okay to travel by train – despite official advice suggesting otherwise” will lead “to the public flouting the rules on travel and work”. They also note that there is no agreement on actually how services can be increased whilst protecting workers and passengers, warning: “We will not accept new working patterns that put the lives of railway workers and passengers at risk.”

A leaked report from Transport for London (TfL) shows that if social distancing were to be imposed on the London Underground system it could only carry 15 per cent of its capacity. This means that even with a 100 per cent service, only 50,000 passengers could board every 15 minutes, compared with 325,000 normally boarding every 15 minutes at rush hour peak prior to lockdown. At present, the reduced service can carry 30,000 passengers boarding every quarter of an hour.

Unsurprisingly, TfL said: “Whatever happens over the coming weeks and months, everyone who can work from home must continue to do so for some time yet. Our intention is to progressively build up service levels, but it is clear life simply won’t be returning to what it was before.”

Obviously this will apply not just to the London tube but to buses and trains across the country, meaning that few people will be able to travel any distance to work. RMT’s General Secretary Mick Cash commented: “The report leaked this morning to the BBC exposing the impact on passenger numbers of maintaining Government social distancing guidelines on the tube is a wake-up call to all those tub-thumping for a jacking up of transport services from May 18th without properly assessing the consequences.”

Also on the London tube, cleaners employed by cleaning contractor ABM are being treated as second-class citizens by being denied staff travel cards that allow travel across the TfL network despite other tube workers receiving this benefit, according to their union, RMT. It also points out that furloughed cleaners are also only receiving 80 per cent of their pay whilst other Tube staff are receiving 100 per cent.

In addition to refusing to give the cleaners staff travel cards, TfL refers to them as “non-core”. After hearing the Mayor of London praise the cleaners to the sky, RMT General Secretary Mick Cash said: “The hypocrisy towards tube cleaners is breath-taking. On the one hand they are told by the Mayor and others they are doing an amazing job and they’re vital to the fight against coronavirus, then in the same breath they’re told you can’t have all the same basic conditions of employment as other tube staff, not even free tube travel.”