Students new to London ought to get used to this. On the evening of Monday September 6th London Underground workers headed out on strike. London ground to a halt and was not back to normal until Wednesday evening. Similar strikes are expected to continue for another few months.
Tube union leader Bob Crow (as close as London has to Public Enemy Number 1) claims the strikes are in response to the proposed reduction of ticket office hours at outlying tube stations which will lead to the loss of 800 jobs. He claims this will affect tube safety.
Crow’s safety concerns can be doubted. Back in 2004 he shut the network to protest the sacking of a number of maintenance workers who had been caught boozing on the job. So much for safety!
In truth Crow is simply indulging in the age old union trick of cloaking sheer self-interest as concern for the public, the very public he and his union plan to screw next week.
It needn’t be like this. It would be entirely possible for Crow and the RMT union to turn up to work as normal and simply open the gates; hit Transport for London in the pocket but leave the rest of us out of it. What Crow calls ‘industrial action’ is, in fact, industrial inaction.
Crow complains about the effects of coalition cuts on the London economy but his strike is estimated to cost London £48 million pounds. But, as Crow once said, “I’m not one of those union officials who continually say they regret the inconvenience caused by industrial action”.
Indeed, it needn’t be like this. In 1981 the American air traffic controllers union went on strike looking for higher pay and shorter hours. President Ronald Reagan gave the 13,000 controllers 48 hours to get back to work. When they ignored him he sacked them.
It worked. With help from military air traffic controllers Reagan kept the skies open, broke the union, and freed the average American flyer from their whims.
Perhaps this points a way forward in London? First, see if the RMT will agree to limit its industrial dispute to the disputing parties; itself and the RMT. Failing that, bring in trained personnel to operate the Underground network so that a resource we all pay for cannot be turned on and off by workers who earn around £30,000 a year and get 35 to 40 days holiday (the average in London is £26,000 and 20 days each).
So, as you fight your way onto a bus during a tube strike, lets hope the capital’s answer to Reagan isn’t far away. In the meantime, welcome to London.
Written for Caerulean, October 2010