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'We can't afford to strike, but we also can't afford not to'

GRIDLOCK: Commuters at Farringdon Tube station make their way through rush hour on February 5, 2014

I FEEL like I need to start by apologising to the millions of Londoners who are facing disruption and chaos because of the action that we, the staff at London Underground, have been forced to take.

Reading the comments on Twitter and Facebook, there is a sense that we have not managed to secure empathy from the public and the perception of us is that we are lazy and overpaid.

There are also complaints about the cost of the strikes to the economy and the trickle down impact on individuals and families.

I am hoping to set the record straight, by firstly addressing the matter of our work ethics.

In my opinion, my colleagues and I are some of the most hardworking people I know. We keep nearly 300 stations running smoothly and support millions of commuters every day to make their journeys safely.

We often have to deal with emergencies and take all sorts of abuse from people who do not understand that we are doing the best we can with the resources we are given.

FAMILIES

Secondly, I would like to point out that we ourselves are having to give up our salaries for the days we strike. We too have families, bills and mortgages. We too are feeling the sting of inflation and the other impacts of the economic crisis, such as the loss of overtime which many rely on to make a living wage.

Some of us really cannot afford to strike. But with the proposals laid before us we have come to the difficult realisation that we cannot afford not to strike.

We cannot just sit back and watch Transport for London (TfL) managers cut 950 positions and slash up to £12,000 off the salaries of some of it lowest-paid staff, while they increase or protect their own. This is not fair.

There is also the issue of safety - ours and yours. Proposals, such as bringing in non-operational staff to work on areas that require operational training, are risky propositions.

As workers, we need to unite in our fight for better pay and safer working conditions, and stop this race to the bottom. We need to fight proposals to curb future strike action, because that is a direct attack on our civil rights and has implications for anyone in employment.

EQUALITY

As an ethnic minority, it is even more important that we resist TFL plans when their equality impact assessment shows that women, black and ethnic minorities and those with disabilities would be disproportionately affected by these cuts and the reorganisation.

When these concerns are raised with TFL they are dismissed as scaremongering.

For those who think we are useless and overpaid, I would like to remind you of major incidents, such as the July 7 bombings. It was partly our quick and fearless response that saved many lives and provided comfort to so many in their time of distress.

Remember the 2012 London Olympics and how we rose to the challenge and managed the seamless transportation of millions.

Remember our contributions to tourism, how our excellent knowledge of London and tourist attractions help many a flustered visitor and encourage them to visit our wonderful city again.

Remember the little things like when you have lost your belongings on the Tube, our relentless effort to recover them.

Remember all the other crises that we deal with on a daily basis, including lost children, medical emergencies at stations and on train. Never mind all the behind the scenes preparation and work that you don’t see.

I am not saying we are heroes or even asking for support, I am just making the point that we do not take the decision to walk out lightly.

We value our jobs - in these dire financial times we know we are lucky to have them - and we value our customers and, to us, this is a battle for a better service for everyone.

*This Inside Voice was written by an on-strike London Underground worker

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