I wrote a similar article to this almost a year ago to the day, and it seems I can reel the same old rant out again, because like death and taxes, you can always count on a Tube strikes at Christmas!
ASLEF, the biggest Union for tube drivers on London’s underground network, have just voted for strike action on Boxing Day, with another 2 strikes planned for 18th and 25th January. Although not directly involved in the strike action, Bob Crows notoriously militant RMT may refuse to cross ASLEF picket lines, effectively shutting down the tube network on one of the busiest days of the year. It will be the third Boxing Day strike in a row. Arsenal has had to cancel its Boxing Day game again. The West End is expected to loose millions in sales.
Why? Well it’s supposedly over “pay and conditions”. Tube drivers currently earn £45,545 per year, rising to over £52,000 by 2015; a deal brokered to try and stop further strike action. Drivers were also recently offered a bonus (bribe) of around £1,200 for not striking during the Olympics (ie. doing their job). This equates to double the annual salary of a nurse (£25,000) and nearly triple the basic salary of a soldier (£18,000) and puts tube drivers not only on par with earnings of an Army Major but in the higher income tax bracket of 40%, earning over DOUBLE the average UK salary. Not your usual union minions eh? But it gets even better. With a strict 35 hour week and massive 43 days a year leave, tube drivers get what already amounts to one of the best reimbursement packages around.
The specific details in question are over pay for working Boxing day. Despite London Underground (LU) believing the previous pay settlement was in agreement of bank holiday work, ASLEF now demands triple pay and an extra day off in lieu for volunteering to work the shift. That would result in a pay cheque of £366 for a single days work. And is it hard or even necessary work? In reality…No. Almost no qualifications or previous experience are needed to drive a tube train, nor is the training programme long or rigorous. More importantly is the issue of automation of the entire tube system. Do trains even need drivers in the first place? Well considering Copenhagen, Dubai, Hong Kong, Washington, Kuala Lumpur, Tokyo and Kobe all have fully automated metro systems the answer would seem no. Further more even parts of London’s tube system are now computer driven – most notably the entire Docklands Light Railway (or DLR). Automated trains would not only modernise London’s dated transport network but provide hundreds of millions of pounds of savings on wages that could be used to subsidise the soaring cost of public transport in the capital. Of course, computers are also not unionized and tend to not go on strike that often…Ken Livingstone et al may blame Boris Johnson for rising tube fares, but in reality it’s their own union paymasters that are driving up costs.
So what’s the real story behind these strikes? If anything it shows what benefits a truly aggressive union can bring for its members, but at what cost and to whom? Trade Unions in this country are not especially well received on the whole, and the likes of the RMT are nothing short of despised, especially by Londoners. While ASLEF and RMT may try to claim it’s over genuine concerns over pay and conditions, the public overwhelmingly know better. The first answer is simply greed. Bob Crow may hark on and on about how bankers are not paying their way and are hoarding money slowing down the economy, but he himself receives a rather generous £145,000 a year on top of still keeping his council house, while his members earn double the average UK earnings. London is not being held hostage by desperate public sector workers trying to maintain a decent standard of living but by some of its highest earning residents! And this leads on to my final point. The real reason for these strikes is confrontation. Tube drivers don’t need any more money, even Crow knows that. But with a Tory led government, public sector strikes and regular demonstrations on the streets it provides the perfect backdrop for causing as much agro as possible. A self described ‘communist’ and unashamedly militant unionist, Bob Crow and his buddies over in ASLEF HQ have long been brandished the “awkward squad” of union leaders, caring not for the public or even their own members but for the simple satisfaction of feeding their already massively bloated political egos.
So, we’re all in this together – apart from the bankers, politicians….and tube drivers!
You can find Charlie Winch on twitter at; @ce_winch