16. Cycle logical victory at Southbank

John: I’d been working at Southbank for about six months, keeping my head down. I’d been virtually black-listed so I didn't want to lose this job by organising openly. I plotted up next to two riders from my company one day; they didn't know I was in the Union. Both were saying they should join. “Well” I said “get three people and you can form your own branch, and as I’m already in the Union how about it?" An hour later we had nine members, and a week later we entered our first dispute.

The main bone of contention at Southbank, for the cyclists at least, was the fact that they had to buy their own uniforms. These cost £46 or more. When a uniform was too dirty or worn out you were expected to buy another. They were made only to promote a corporate image, not as practical work clothes.

John: In the Autumn of 1991 one of the Southbank cyclists was sacked. He came and told us - the union members - about it. It was because he'd let his uniform get too shabby. Southbank ran a bonus scheme, they'd stop this if you didn't portray the correct corporate image. All of us looked like street urchins, our orange kit faded to a shabby black very quickly. We felt the company had gone too far and could by their criteria sack any one of us just like that. We organised a riders' meeting for the cyclists - we operated on a separate radio channel to the motorcycles and rarely saw them. All but two cyclists, who had to catch trains home, attended. I drafted a letter demanding that the sacked rider be reinstated and asked for a few other things such as the even distribution of work and a ceiling on the number of riders. Peter and Mike then rallied the riders and got nearly everyone to sign it. This was impressive, twenty four out of twenty six signatures. The next morning we met at our plot up point, Salisbury Square, at 8.30 am. We started work in theory at 9.00 am but on this day at 9.00 am, we'd all be walking into the office to demand our colleague's job back. About fifteen of us went to the office, some people took the day off others came into work but they didn't call on until they knew we had sorted out the problem. Only one rider scabbed, Ray: he was subsequently abused or ignored and universally hated for it.

At first management tried to bullshit us, saving that the office manager was unavailable. We insisted that they make him available and weren't budging until he was. Eventually he came in to see us. After a constructive discussion and having seen our demands he agreed to offer the sacked rider his job back and put a ceiling on the number of riders. We'd won, the old controller was sacked and the new bloke distributed work fairly. Ironically the sacked rider declined the offer of reinstatement as he'd got a better job elsewhere.