Reclaim the Streets activists occupy head office of London Underground
MONDAY 4TH JANUARY 1999
RTS, best known for their Street Party demonstrations, are taking the action against London Underground Ltd (LUL) and the Government's attempt to privatise the tube network. Tube workers had voted to be on strike today but their action was called off by the RMT union after LUL got a court order under the anti-strike laws which Labour has inherited from the Tories.
Despite the fact that the privatisation of British rail is now recognised as a disaster New Labour is proceeding with plans to sell off parts of the tube network. In December John Prescott signed papers allowing private companies to start 'shadowing' London Transport management to get an idea of what sort of business they will be taking over, what corners can be cut, what workers they can sack. It is estimated that the privatisation process will cost around £100 million. Campaigners claim that this could be much better spent on improving the service.
Dee Locke, one of the campaigners, said: "Bus deregulation and the railways sell-off are clear examples of the dire results of privatisation: more misery for the public, big profits for business. John Prescott talks of a private-public partnership, when in fact it"s going to be more like private profit at public expense. It"s not fair: for travellers, for workers, for the planet, for the future."
RTS have previously done actions in support of striking tube workers and with the Liverpool dockers. In July environmental activists climbed onto the roof of a tube train at Bank and shut down the eastbound Central Line. During the the 1996 tube strike RTS activists argainsed a simultaneous 'Critical Mass' bike blockade in Trafalgar Square.
RTS calls on all fellow travellers to take action alongside future tube strikes. Faced with the draconian anti-strike laws that tie workers hands RTS suggests they take unofficial action like the wildcat strikes being used so successfully by electricians on the Jubilee Line Extension.
text of leaflet distributed at the action...
Mind the gap - Privatisation won't fill it
In keeping with New Labour's commitment to continue the Thatcher revolution John Prescott has started the process that will lead to the privatisation of the tube network. While he talks of getting private investment into public transport, the reality is allowing the private sector to make profits out of government subsidy and through attacking the pay and conditions of tube workers.
As we have seen with British Rail it is certainly not about a better service for passengers. Private companies are now 'shadowing' London Transport managers to get an idea of what sort of business they will be taking over, what corners can be cut, which workers can be sacked. In response to this attack, tube workers voted overwhelmingly to take strike action. However exploiting the anti-strike legislation introduced by the Tories London Transport has had these strikes declared illegal and the RMT has called them off for now. However today in solidarity with the tube workers Reclaim The Streets(RTS) is taking direct action against London Transport management.
Public and Private Transport Two Forms of Misery People have a need for transport, but how that need is felt and the way in which it is met is determined socially. RTS and the wider anti-roads movement has opposed the car culture in which more and more cars, more and more roads were seen as the way forward. There has been a shift, new and bigger roads are no longer seen as the solution to traffic congestion and transport bottlenecks. Seeing an easy target Brown has increased taxes on motorists.
As part of his empire building at the new Department of Environment Transport and the Regions Prescott is putting the emphasis on to public transport. But at the same time the deputy PM shows a New Labour face by embracing Public/Private partnerships and bringing in private businessmen to attack the 'old fashioned work practices' of the transport workers - very New labour, very Third way.
In giving our whole hearted support to the fight of these workers for their interests RTS want to show we are not taken in by this new 'green' face of state transport policy. RTS has always been about more than just opposition to the car. While RTS has criticised the atomised existence that car culture represents we are under no illusion that tubes, buses and railways in this society are some kind of decent alternative.
Packed together at rush hour, miserable faces, no one talking with anyone else instead hiding behind newspapers and personal stereos, the tube is as alienated an environment as the traffic jam. In a car or on a train going to work is a misery. We support the tube workers resistance to things getting worse. But workers and passengers on the tube are aware that the status quo is pretty bad already.
'What do you want then?'
London has some of the most expensive transport in the world. For most workers transport is a major part of their budget. For those on low incomes the tube is a luxury. While fares have just gone up they should be going down. Actually why should we be paying at all? Most time using the tube is simply a misery that we have to endure in order to get to work. Why shouldn't we be paid for the time lost going to work as for the time lost when we get there?
At the very least we should travel for free. By the imposition of penalty fares and the other anti-fare dodging measures London Transport has made the free travel many of us need less easy. open the barriers and let everyone travel free. Still, such demands are not very radical compared with what we really want. We want to reclaim all our stolen time, time stolen by commuting, time stolen to pay for fares, time stolen by work. We want another world.
Strike to end the misery
Whenever transport workers go on strike the Standard and other rags talk of 'Misery on the Roads and on the Rails'. But we know the reality is the opposite. Strikes are good for the spirit. Commuters get the day off work, tube workers get to socialise on the picket lines and down the pub instead of working.
Business leaders talk of damage to London"s economy. But what is that economy really about? It is about lots of people working hard just to survive while making profits for others to live at their expense. We say fuck the economy! We want to damage that which damages us. The economy is a human misery. By striking tube workers reduce the misery!
Anyway, only by using their economic muscle can the tube workers defend their own interests against the attempt to make them work harder for less, which is what privatisation is about. However London Transport"s legal move and the RMT's call off of the strike action shows that tube workers need to consider their tactics.
Understandably workers often feel that only by taking legal official action can they be safe. But their only real safety lies in sticking together. If strikers respect the union laws they are unlikely to win, that is what the laws are all about. Workers need to strike without following official rules, they need to spread actions from one section of workers to the next and they need to link with actions outside the workplace which are challenging this society: they need to break the law. In the past wildcat action by tube drivers has been more effective than official actions.
More recently in an ongoing fight with management, electricians on the Jubilee Line Extension have shown that by not listening to their union when it tells them to obey the anti-strike laws workers win. They have learnt that it is not through legalistic union methods but by direct action and solidarity that workers can defend their interests.
Today RTS are saying that we stand with workers against their bosses, against New Labour and for autonomous direct action for a better world.
General info: Reclaim the Streets: 0171 281 4621; firstname.lastname@example.org LONDON MEETING EVERY TUESDAY 7pm - phone for meeting place address as it often changes
Reclaim the Streets
PO BOX 9656, London N4 4JY NOTE NEW WEBSITE ADDRESS! - http://www.gn.apc.org/rts/