Station staff on the Bakerloo Line South Cover Group (Oxford Circus, Piccadilly Circus, Charing Cross, Lambeth North, and Elephant and Castle) will strike on 26 December and 14 January, fighting back against short staffing.
The issues in the dispute are clear. Anyone who works at an even moderately busy station knows that staffing levels are already too low, and LU’s current culture of cost cutting means that when people are off sick or there are unfilled vacancies, those duties often go uncovered as the company doesn’t want to cough up for the overtime.
Tubeworker is no fan of overtime; we think there should be enough staff to cover the duties without it. But covering duties on OT is preferable to leaving them uncovered.
One or two duties uncovered in a day may not sound like much, but that translates to two people being on a gateline when there should be three, or one when there should be two. If you’re that one person... you feel it.
At Oxford Circus in particular, management have used a “traffic light” system, whereby duties are designated “green” or “amber” and therefore considered less important to cover than “red” duties. This sets an alarming precedent; if we allow the company to get away with designating certain duties as optional extras rather than must-haves, we open the door to those jobs being cut altogether.
The demands of the strikes are simple: LU must cover the duties, and conduct a review of the underlying staffing level where unions can make a case for additional jobs.
The ballot for the strikes saw a 88% vote for action on a 66% turnout, easily clearing the double-threshold of the Tory anti-union laws. The local reps and activists ran a confident, well-organised campaign to get the vote out, and it worked. A clear message about the strength of feeling in the workplace has been sent to the company.
There’s been some debate inside RMT about the merits of calling a strike on Boxing Day. Tubeworker agrees there are pitfalls; in general we think it’s better to strike when business and The City is up and running to maximise our economic impact. There is a risk that striking on Boxing Day could be misinterpreted as aiming to affect the wrong people (i.e., ordinary folk traveling to see friends and family after Christmas).
But there is also a logic to striking on this day. The threat of disruption to the Boxing Day sales at the big stores on Oxford Street and Regent Street gives the strike a potential economic leverage. Crucially, on Boxing Day it will also be much harder for LU to ship in managers in pink hi-vis (aka “Ambassadors”) to keep the station open. And ultimately, station closures, or the threat of them, is our primary form of leverage on the job.
It’s important, though, that a second strike, on a “business day” was also named. Naming the 14 January strike lets the company know that this isn’t just about making a token protest. It also means that, should LU make an acceptable offer prior to Boxing Day, the prospect of the 14 January strike acts as pressure to stop them reneging.
As of now, the ball is in the bosses’ court. Either they give concrete guarantees to scrap their “traffic light” system and commit to covering duties and reviewing the staffing level, or we will strike on 26 December.