Tuesday, September 11, 2007

TUC Tuesday Morning: Transport – Debate, Demo and Fringe

This morning, the TUC invited the class enemy into its living room. We found the need to have an RMT delegation meeting outside the congress hall at the time.

Later was a session on rail and transport. We are, as usual, in favour of freight on rail, in favour of public railways, and aware of the environmental benefits thereof. And it was very welcome to see the General Secretaries of TSSA and ASLEF speak clearly in defence of the RMT against the media witch-hunt during the Metronet strike last week. This was particularly important given Brendan Barber’s silence on the issue, but that said, TSSA did not explain why, despite defending our strike, they called off their own. RMT President John Leach thumped the tub for the ending of Tube privatization, waking up some of the sleeping delegates.

Then I got up to make a point and this is what I said …

I’ve got up here to ask for your support for an important campaign we are waging on London Underground. London Underground Ltd plans savage attacks on its ticket office, closing 39 and cutting the opening hours of most of the rest.

The company claims this is because more and more people are using Oyster – the new smartcard ticketing system. But we know that passengers still need ticket office. Not everyone uses Oyster; it’s a complex system and people need help; there are already long queues at our ticket offices; several types of transaction can only be carried out at a ticket office; stations without ticket offices are hostile places to be, especially at night; and sometimes, phonelines, websites and touchscreens are no substitute for human contact.

The truth is that LUL is not simply responding to changes in ticket-buying behaviour but trying to force that change by driving you away through closing its ticket offices.

I am no Luddite. I believe that new technology is good – but it must be introduced in the interests of workers and service users not in the interests of maximising profits. London Underground already charges you some of the highest underground rail fares in the world – it could at least make it easier for you to pay, or better still, cut the fares.

The attack on ticket offices will also see over 270 staff posts cut; workers displaced; promotion opportunities lost; part-time and family-friendly working opportunities lost; increased workload and stress; and increased vulnerability to assault against workers on a system where 77% of assaults are ticketing-related.

Don’t let Ken Livingstone come to this Congress telling you he is the champion of working people when he is doing this to his own staff and his own passengers.

RMT and TSSA are campaigning against this. A week on Thursday, we are holding a public rally to which you are all invited. I believe that we will have to strike to save our ticket offices, and I am asking for all unions in this hall to support us, and for the General Council to support us too.

Outside the Congress hall, RMT members waved banners and posed in front of a hired display lorry adorned with the demand that Metronet be returned to public ownership now.

After taking part in the demo for a while, I went to a fringe meeting about transport, arriving late to hear Jack Dromey extol the virtues of Ken Livingstone. I had to chip in and mention Livingstone calling on RMT member to cross their own union’s picket lines, presiding over the de-staffing of London Underground stations, and now ushering in ticket office closures (I could also have mentioned East London line privatisation, the multiple fat cats he employs, and many more sins, but you get the point.) Jack replied that Ken may have his faults, but he’s moving in the right direction on bus policy and at least he’s not Boris Johnson.