On Wednesday the biggest Union for train drivers on London’s underground network, ASLEF, voted for strike action on Boxing Day, with another 3 strikes planned for 16th Jan, 3rd Feb and 13th Feb. Bob Crow’s notoriously awkward RMT may soon follow or refuse to cross picket lines, effectively closing London Underground on what is often its busiest day of the year.
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 are also being 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 theLondon’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 also tend to not go on strike that often…Ken Livingstone may blame Boris Johnson for rising tube fares, but in reality it’s his 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.Londonis 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 the 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 and public sector strikes left right and centre it provides the perfect backdrop for causing as much agro as possible. An unashamed and active communist, the likes of Bob Crow 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.