Service controllers on the Waterloo and City Line on London Underground (LU) have been fighting for regrading to reflect the responsible nature of their work. They struck from 28-30 September. One of the activists spoke to Tubeworker.
The dispute goes back to 2006/7, when the signalling for the line was moved to a new control centre. That meant we had more responsibilities, and were working with new equipment. Previously we'd been signallers, now we were doing controllers' work – but LU didn't upgrade us. We were told we'd be moved up to “Controller 1”, the lowest grade of controller. But in 2008, the company reneged, saying that the financial crisis meant they couldn't afford it!
The dispute has been ongoing ever since. Over the years there's been a steady stream of new procedures and technologies being introduced. We're doing work equivalent to the highest grade of controller, but we're still in a separate grade.
An offer was made to us last year to upgrade us if we worked additional Sundays. But at the last minute, the company informed us they'd pay for it by cutting jobs in another grade at our depot. We didn't want our promotion to come at the price of jobs elsewhere, so we refused.
We struck from 28-30 September, the first time we've taken action in the dispute. The strike was solid, but management kept the service running by drafting in hordes of managers to cover the work. It was really overkill. However, controllers from another depot who were asked to come in to cover the work refused to do so, which was positive.
We were directly attacked on the front page of the Evening Standard, in an article that bemoaned the fact that small numbers had voted in our strike ballot. We felt the attack was very personal, and that we were being picked on for working in a small workplace.
The managers who covered the work on our strike day were qualified on paper, but not used to working in our environment. If we take action again, we'd encourage other grades of staff, particularly drivers, to call up and make sure that whoever's running the line is properly trained and competent.
We're looking to take more action towards the end of the year, and are exploring different forms of industrial action.
What's happening to us is part of a wider picture. London Underground is cutting staff in a variety of areas, and our experiences – of essentially being promoted to more responsible roles, involving more work, without that being reflected in our pay – mirror what's currently happening to station staff. They've picked on us particularly because we're a small unit, but if we can win our fight for justice it might inspire other grades in other areas.
The mood in the workplace is extremely angry. To make sure that anger fuels a resolve to continue fighting, we need continued communication from the union, and regular updates from talks and negotiations so we can decide the best way forward for our dispute.