Boris Johnson, new Mayor of London, has started as he intended to go on. He introduced an alcohol ban on London Underground without any preparation and without putting staff in place to enforce the ban. Inevitably the ban was challenged last Saturday night. Tube staff were left on their own to deal with drunken revellers in addition to running a transport system, as they had warned in advance. They were left at the sharp end of Johnson’s self-publicising antics.
At least twelve members of Tube staff were assaulted at King’s Cross station alone during Saturday night’s alcohol-fuelled disturbances, according to reports coming in to the biggest London Underground union.
RMT has called for a personal apology from the Mayor – who was conspicuous by his absence – to all staff members assaulted as the ‘half-baked’ alcohol ban came into force.
The disturbing picture coming from RMT reps includes reports that police were ‘too busy’ to come to the aid of a woman member of staff hit by a bottle thrown at High Street Kensington station, and arriving too late to quell disturbances at other stations.
RMT estimates that the true number of assaults on staff, including spitting, threats and verbal assaults, was more than 50. At least twelve members of staff were assaulted at King’s Cross alone.
An RMT member was punched in the face and had beer poured over his head during the incident at Euston Square. One of at least four drivers assaulted was knocked on the head by an assailant, and his glasses were broken. Some drivers booked off on safety grounds when passengers became angry and there were no staff available to assist. One driver refused to move his train when it came to his attention that there was a man on the roof.
At several locations passengers were seen on the tracks, endangering themselves and others. At several locations objects were thrown onto the tracks. Passengers were seen urinating on trains and onto tracks. Drivers also report doors being pushed off their runners and trains vandalised, some seriously.
At Liverpool Street station, one of six closed during the evening, police told supervisors that the station could reopen at 22:00 – but without police assistance. The station remained closed until start of traffic on Sunday.
At least six passenger emergency alarms (PEAs) were activated during the evening. Drivers responding to PEAs were finding it almost impossible to make their way through trains thanks to the sheer number of people and the amount of debris and discarded bottles and cans.
Station closures and the suspension of District and Circle Line services had a knock-on effect on the rest of the network, creating a greater workload and causing problems for staff at most locations.
“The more reports we get from our reps the uglier the picture of Saturday’s violence becomes, and the clearer it is that Tube bosses effectively just crossed their fingers and closed their eyes,” RMT general secretary Bob Crow said today.
“Local reps are telling us that the scenes were among the most chaotic they have ever seen, with none of the mitigation and crowd-control that would be in place on New Year’s Eve – and the concentration of numbers at times was probably greater.
“LUL can’t say it wasn’t expecting a massive drunken crowd, and doing nothing amounts to a shameful dereliction of its duty of care towards staff and Tube passengers.
“And where was the Mayor when our members were being assaulted thanks to his half-baked publicity stunt – was he still swanning around on a yacht in Turkey?
“TfL rubbished our warnings and said that our members would be able to call on the British Transport Police if there was trouble, but Saturday night proved that to be the nonsense it has always been.
“We have been saying for years that the BTP are already too under-resourced to respond to the calls they already get.
“We understand from driver reps that on the District and Circle lines there were no fewer than five Mayday calls at one point, with no hope of getting help to them.
“Cleaners, most of them on little more than the minimum wage, spent the early hours of Sunday clearing up a sea of vomit, urine, bottles, cans and other debris for no extra pay, and that too is a scandal,” Bob Crow said. Ken Livingstone commented on the ban in advance, “The law is pointless unless someone if enforcing it.
“The staff of the Tube won’t bother to challenge people; and I can’t say that I blame them. The policing of the Underground is the responsibility of the British Transport Police and unless you happen to live or work in very central London, you’re more likely to come across the Queen Mother playing the banjo than you are that lot.”
This article first appeared on Socialist Appeal.
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This post was written by Rick Grogan