London Underground To Use Travel Ambassadors To “Beat Strike”

tubestrike_230114Today, London Underground has demonstrated precisely how not to behave while trying to avert strikes: announce their own private army of strike breakers.

The RMT has called two 48 hour strikes in February in response to 750 job cuts and ticket office closures (the TSSA is expected to follow suit). The union and LU have been in talks at ACAS to try and find some common ground, but today came a Transport for London press release announcing that TfL’s Travel Ambassadors – originally used during the Olympics to help people find their way around – will “help Londoners beat totally unnecessary industrial action”.

Firstly: we think TfL’s being a bit misleading here. All the Ambassadors will be able to do is give information on alternative methods of transport; there’s 1,000 of them, they’re not going to be able to keep the network running. Information will be useful, but even if stations “remain open for customers” we still ain’t going to be able to use them.

Secondly: this rather assumes the Ambassadors don’t mind being used as, essentially, strike breakers. (Or, if you prefer, scabs.) How many of these Ambassadors are union members? How many will actually turn out? Will union members who are also Ambassadors be penalised by LU if they don’t “volunteer” (strange choice of words from TfL; if the Ambassadors turn out will they get paid their normal wage?). Could this politicised use of Ambassadors even put people off volunteering?

Thirdly: if you’re in the middle of negotiations to solve a dispute, surely declaring you’ve found a way around a strike is just going to piss off the union you’re attempting to talk to? Londoners would like this resolved, thanks, not each side to dig in further.

London Underground says there will be no compulsory redundancies and that there’ll be a job for all staff who are “prepared to be flexible”. The RMT has previously said staff are being made to reapply for their own jobs. We can’t help wondering if some of the “flexibility” required is code for “alright, who’s doing the midnight-8am shift Friday and Saturday nights at Piccadilly Circus?”; these are significant changes to people’s jobs. TfL also insists that closing ticket offices will make staff more available to passengers, but questions have been asked this week whether previous job cuts led to disabled Londoners being unable to use step-free access because of staff shortages.

Strikes are currently set for between between 12pm on 4 February to 11.59am on 6 February, and the same hours on 11-13 February. The RMT has also called two 48 hour strikes on the DLR over pay and conditions, for between 04.30 on 29 January to 04.29 on 31 January, and 12pm on 4 February to 11.59am on 6 February, which coincides with the first tube strike.

Photo by CGP Grey from the Londonist Flickr pool

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  • AnonyMouse

    Slight mistake with this article – “all the Ambassadors will be able to do is give information on alternative methods of transport” is not true. There are ‘Licensed Ambassadors’ (formerly known as ICSAs) that can make up minimum numbers at stations and are trained to much the same as an ordinary CSA.

  • Jim Fearnley

    Yep, in my day, they were known as scabs, rather than emissaries of HM Foreign Service. Funny that…

  • Jumbalaaaya

    Another leftie biassed bollocks article from Holdsworth. Yawn.

    • Rachel Holdsworth

      Using a different username now, Frogmella? 😉

    • Jim

      Totally agree with you! How narrow minded can you be? Holdsworth, do the unions pay your wage or something? Get a clue, start with some facts, then have a look at both sides of the story and write something balanced. I’m not saying I agree with TFL but there is a lot more to this than you seem to be able to grasp.

  • BT

    You might want to look into why the strikes are happening in some more detail Rachel before sounding off that ‘Londonders would like this resolved, thanks’, essentially suggesting TFL are the party involved being inflexible. There’s a real world out there… it’s happenin. Shoddy journalism.

    • Rachel Holdsworth

      Thanks, I’ve looked at this in several previous articles, linked to within the piece. Like this one: and this one: It was always obvious such a massive change in working practices would end in strikes, LU has a responsibility to not make things worse DURING negotiations! This is, after all, their own staff they’re dealing with.

      • Jim

        Exactly, staff that get paid!! They need to work for the wages which in some cases involves change. When they started the job they had to make a change didn’t they? If the world didn’t change it would be a very backward place. A bit like your idea of reporting.

      • BT

        You appear to be missing the point Rachel. LU certainly have a responsibility to their employees, as do all companies. However, all businesses first and foremost concern is the customer (they are the one’s paying the bills after all) and unfortunately you appear to have forgotten about them in these negotiations. RMT are completely averse to modernisation, something the vast majority of the western world have to deal with on a daily basis, often without promises of non-compulsory redundencies. Describing these ‘ambassodors’ as a “private army of strike breakers” is inaccurate, reactionary and quite frankly, ridiculous.

        • Rachel Holdsworth

          I agree with you on the RMT. We all know what they’re like – you do, I do, and LU certainly do. Which is why I think that, by announcing this move in the middle of negotiations, TfL/LU has actually made things worse and made it more likely that a strike will go ahead – affecting us, the customers. (My phrase of ‘private army of strike breakers’ was meant to be a sarcastic response to the equally reactionary language TfL used in its press release; apologies if that didn’t come off.)

          I actually think we have an illustration of what I’m talking about in this comment thread. If you have a dispute with someone, what’s the best way to resolve it? Talk about the issue or attack/undermine the person? I’m far more inclined to write this massive, considered response to this comment of yours, rather than the one in which you’re accusing me of “shoddy journalism” – you’d made your point perfectly well before you attacked me personally. And Jumbalaaaya up there, who’s known to us for leaving similarly unconstructive comments under a different name – do I pay any serious attention to someone who purely bitches about me? Of course I don’t.

          And back to the RMT/LU. LU has used managers and office staff to keep parts of the network running in previous strikes, it’s what they do. You know that, I know that, the RMT knows that. If negotiations break down irrevocably, fine, announce they’ve found a bunch more people who can do that job. (Though I’m always going to have a problem with using the lovely, warm n fuzzy Olympics volunteering idea in such a politicised way, but here we can disagree.) By making such an announcement in such hardened language during negotiations, LU is undermining the whole effort. It’s like they’re deliberately winding the union up – “go ahead, have your stupid strike, we can manage perfectly well without you”. Human nature being as it is, if you were the RMT would you even consider playing nicely after that? It’s completely inflammatory behaviour from an organisation paid for with our money.

  • Aidan McManus

    A scab is a scab whatever you call them

    • paul

      Thanks for that constructive input to the discussion.

    • RobotsDontStrike

      Scab = Serving Customers, Against Boycotts

      Sounds good to me. More power to ’em.

  • John Pearse

    I may be wrong but the timing of the strike seems to have changed since this article was written. On this page ( of TfL’s website dated 2nd Feb it says the strike will take place “Around 9.30pm on Tuesday 4 February until the morning of Friday 7 February”, whereas above you’ve got it as a 12pm start and finishing on 6th Feb.

    Just noting this as the article’s been tweeted today, so gives the impression this is the most up to date info.

    • Rachel Holdsworth

      Yes, the times have changed, but we only tweeted this article at one person in response to something they said!