Look Back in Anger

22 years ago I joined an underground very different from the one we have today. Some changes have been good, some bad. Through all these changes one theme has remained constant.
“It’s the rich wot takes the pleasure and the poor wot takes the blame”
The job then was run by the Station Mangers most of these were West Indian or Caribbean men who came to Britain in 50s and 60s with promises of gold to find that the only work was poorly paid and the accommodation usually had signs saying “ No Blacks no Irish” outside.
The Railways used to operate a seniority system. You could not go for promotion until you had a few years service under your belt. You could then sit the exams and pass or fail. When you did go out as an Inspector or Station Manager you had years of experience and the respect of the staff that you were looking after.
These West Indian and Caribbean managers had done their years passed their exams and were a font of knowledge on all things railway. They would work out the driver’s duties and pay as well as running a group of stations. Then came company plan and their jobs disappeared. After years of loyal service most happily took their redundancy and went as they could see the writing on the wall.
The Underground lost some of the most knowledgeable staff it had ever had and the chance to have them teach the newcomers.
With Company plan came the end of seniority. You could become a manager in two minutes and a joke even quicker.
Booking clerks were forced into the new Supervisor grade, Foremen were forced into booking offices and the job became a collection of jacks of all trades and masters of none. The only consolation was that the majority of the staff got better pay.
I found myself embarrassed to be on the same grade and pay as my former inspectors. These people had years in and knew everything and I had 5 minutes and knew nothing. (Some things never change).
Over the last few years we have seen privateers ripping off the company, shoddy workmanship being the norm with our refurbishments but as always the front line staff have to keep their smile and give excellent service while the whole station falls down around us.
We are told that the slightest mistake is a crime worthy of the birch while Metronet directors get a million quid each golden handshake for losing 3 billion pounds. You lose a fiver in ticket office and god help you. Management waste millions of pounds sending staff on their waste of time courses when it would be more economical to have group based trainers to sing the company song to us locally. We may even sing along now again if were not so tired from travelling.
The gripes over, some things are better. The new SLS equipment would be wonderful if we were all fully trained on it. Trackernet would be great if it worked. The new banking system would be a great time saver if someone with computer skills had written the software. No I ask too much, it is the front line as always that has to achieve excellence while being constantly sabotaged from the top.
If I had to sum up 22 years of work, I would say that I have worked with the best bunch of people in the world and some of the biggest idiots on the planet. I have met some real characters and learnt so much from my friends and colleagues. I have enjoyed most of it with the railways way of laughing at adversity.
If I had to give advice to new recruits it would be to make sure that you join a Union and get involved in its running. We are entering recession and you will need to fight to keep all of the benefits that have been won over the years.
So to sum up, while Metronet bosses live it up on their million pound backhander, I am struggling to make sure that I get a decent pension if my heart is found to be faulty. People that give their lives to the company and serve on the front line are given the scraps from the table while those who lose billions of pounds are rewarded.
And they wonder why we are not motivated

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