Diary of a Tube worker: "He's in his office and he tells us to go outside"

Submitted by martin on 29 March, 2020 - 2:16 Author: Jay Dawkey
Tube station

“I dunno man, it can’t be right. Look at how many the flu kills, there is something up here. Look at the new laws, black boys gonna lose their lives in jail and they can bury them, no questions”.

E is holding forth in a control room that now has five of us in it. Two people could just about hope to be two metres away. At five it's an impossibility.

I’ve signed in, I’m not happy about it. I've been reallocated to full-time station work from training for a driver's job, after working stations weekends on the Night Tube. I find others in similar positions in the mess room. “I haven’t worked here for six months, but it's the nearest station now, I don’t want to travel”. “I haven’t worked on a station for four years but if I can squat here for now I will”.

At least a few of us are in the same boat. We’ve done ok here. The WAGs (the wide gates for pushchairs, luggage, people with mobility issues) are open. No one is setting foot near the ticket machines, let alone going in the back to deal with the cash or fix the machine flashing “No Notes” over and over again.

As I walked over to the mess room, D, the supervisor, said “No one needs to be on the gateline, but try and do the social distancing among yourselves.”

Here, there are enough rooms and spaces we can go to for that. It can’t be in other places. I ask someone what they are doing at another station. “He had us out on the gateline still. I’m not even sure he should be in, but he's in his office and he tells us to stay outside. It’s better here. I’m gonna ask for more shifts here.”

People want to know how long until I go again, whether I know what’s going on elsewhere. “I know as much as anyone else. One minute I was in the classroom [training for a driver's job], the next I was being told to go home and report back for work the next day.”

“When I saw that email, I felt for you man, longer you are here the further I am to getting out as well hahah.” Z leaves to make a call. I go back to reading. An hour or so later and I’ve done nothing but chat and read. Travel on the Tube is down 93%. It's only 350,000 journeys being made every day. The next day I get reports that the police have started to do spot checks, stopping people and asking them why they are travelling. We’ve started getting letters to carry to let us travel to work. Some people want the cops to be on the station longer. But if people aren’t going to get paid if they don’t turn up to work then their journey is essential.

At one point we had six of us on the station, more than we possibly need. I suggest some of us ask to leave, it's less safe than us being at home. I text our union rep, asking where we’ve got with getting this formally agreed. He says he is chasing up.

I leave at 0100 and wait for my taxi. It’s not taking me all the way home, but it’s more hassle to change cabs. I’ll get a night bus the rest of the way. I see two homeless guys, regulars outside the station.

One goes to hug the other one. “Fuck off! We gotta keep our distance”. They both burst out laughing and shuffle off, sharing a can of Holsten Pils.

My taxi arrives. He’s still waiting to find out if he is a key worker. His daughter works at Next. They want her to go in and sort stock. He’s told her she shouldn't. They want to pay them just £11 per week while they are closed. Central London is absolutely dead, bar the occasional person in a shop doorway or on a bench. At least it's dry outside.

After the taxi drops me off, I wait for the bus. A homeless couple, huddling together, smoking heroin, catch my attention as I see the flame of the lighter. It's almost 0200 when my bus turns up. It's me and one other person. The driver has a face mask hanging limply from one ear. Some cling film has been stuck over the holes by the barrier between me and him.

We don’t need to talk anyway. I get in, wash my hands and go to bed. Ready for the next shift.

• "Jay Dawkey" is a worker and RMT union activist on London Underground.

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