As I type this most of the London Underground network is at a standstill, due to industrial action. True to form elements of the MSM, especially the legendarily foul-mouthed Paul Dacre’s propaganda rag, are condemning the strike on the basis that “the tube drivers get twice the salary of a bus driver” so they should be grateful. Leaving aside the issue that bus drivers are arguably underpaid for the level of responsibility that they bear, a direct cause of bus deregulation (a gross error which has seen services deteriorate countrywide, and which Labour had pledged to reform if they had been elected), the point is that tube drivers bear an even greater responsibility and do not have the easy life that the media portray – the Guardian has a quote from one ASLEF member explaining why he is on strike:
Drivers work unsociable hours. They can be working three out of four weekends and almost every bank holiday and have been doing so for many years. For managers to come along and say we are introducing a night tube and not consult the drivers and station staff and enforce a new working pattern on them without consulting them is unethical.
We could work 17 weekends and have one off, potentially. The unions in previous years have fought for our work conditions and have kept our jobs secure. I am on a fixed term contract with London Underground at a time where my job future with London Underground is in question yet they are hiring new staff on permanent contracts around me.
I feel alienated by a company that treats staff as if they are slaves. In any work place where terms and conditions are changed without consultation there will be uproar: thankfully we have our unions to back us.
At the end of the day this strike has been brought about by the usual intransigent stupidity of London’s part time Mayor, the work shy but publicity hungry Boris Johnson. Johnson has a track record (so to speak) of rash promises and stupid ideas in connection with London’s transport system – the precipitate retirement of the bendy buses with the inevitable decimation of the fleet capacity, the irredeemably bad Boris Routemaster, the woefully bad handling of the Boris Bike scheme and the vanity project of his cable car – but this suggestion has its roots in an earlier promise made and broken; at the last Mayoral election he promised to move toward driverless trains, a promise that got the right wing press slathering at the chops, even though he knew that the technical issues would prove too expensive to overcome. So he needs a win against the unions, as he comes toward the end of his term, to give his inevitable bid for Our Glorious Ronsealed Fishpointer General’s gig at Number 10; this isn’t about passenger choice, this is about saving BoJo’s fat pasty face.
A final thought on responsibilities. The tube driver has responsibility for the lives of up to 900 passengers (those of us old enough will remember the carnage at Moorgate), a bus driver up to 90 passengers; Daily Mail hacks has responsibility for none yet, it can be argued, have probably caused more deaths in the past few years than every single tube and bus driver combined. Maybe it is high time to have a fresh look at those issues.