Why Labour members should support the Tube strike

December 22, 2012 1:10 pm

London Underground’s drivers’ strike has become a Christmas tradition, and like Brussels sprouts, it’s one that gets a lot of people turning up their noses. The media, politicians; even seemingly left-wing commentators are currently running an offensive against Aslef members set to walk out next week.

‘But they earn 40k a year!!!11!’ I hear you retort. Does a handsome salary somehow deny them their right to collective action? I shouldn’t need to defend a workers’ pay, but many seem to forget that driving the tubes is a dangerous job that takes responsibility for hundreds of lives at a time. It also involves unsociable hours, suicides and infrequent exposure to daylight. And they haven’t been granted lieu days for working a bank holiday for 20 years now; hence the strike.

There seems to be a perception that these drivers enjoy striking, like they get a kick out of ‘holding London to ransom’ and pissing off the bosses. But believe me, standing out in the cold on a picket line at 6am, missing out on valuable family time and having your livelihood threatened does not a merry Christmas make.

Of course, the strike will cause disruption, and it’s regrettable that some will miss out on the January sales (ok, not that regrettable), and others will be inconvenienced in their own commute; but disruption is basically the point of industrial action. If the Dagenham Ford machinists hadn’t caused a halt in car production in 1968 we might never have had the Equal Pay Act. And hey, the travelling public aren’t the only ones making a sacrifice here: missing a day’s pay is never easy, especially when there are other mouths to feed.

We are constantly being fed the idea that strikes are a product of ‘union barons’ who are ordering workers out against their will. Cameron said in the Evening Standard “It’s not in the interests of Tube drivers for unions to insist on such unreasonable demands”. He’s wrong of course; these demands are the product of a democratic members’ ballot, to which 90% of drivers voted in favour (a majority the PM could only dream of). Cameron knows that strikes are at the drivers’ wishes, and him peddling myths is part and parcel of the coalition’s wider ideological attack on the working classes and our right to organise.

The damaging rhetoric in the media pits workers against each other; it’s the same tactic the Government uses to divide the public and private sectors, the employed and the unemployed. Yesterday my granddad, a London bus driver, said “I’m working Boxing Day, unlike those greedy tube drivers”. Instead of questioning why lower paid workers aren’t receiving the same conditions, the public are buying the ‘race to the bottom’ argument.  Tube drivers earn almost twice as much as their peers above-ground, an injustice: our vision as trade unionists should be to strive for decent pay and conditions across the board.

Aslef are an affiliated union (one of Labour’s founders, in fact). To shun their members’ actions is a hostile gesture to our party’s history and a nod to Cameron and co.’s anti-union campaign. Next time you go to say ‘I’m a trade unionists, but…’, have a think about the principles you’re about to dismiss, the workers you’re about to demonise and who this works to benefit. The Govt wants us turning against each other next week, don’t let them get it. Show some festive solidarity and support the striking drivers.

  • http://twitter.com/N3LTR0N Nelson Cook

    Others work Bank Holidays with nothing in lieu, with often no natural light, also entire 12-hour night shifts. If the drivers want a molecule of sympathy they could strike on the “first day back at work” rather than a family/leisure day. If there is a case for this action, it must be communicated far better than present, which suggests their leaders aren’t doing their job.

  • http://www.facebook.com/scott.sharpless Scott Sharpless

    How about people show some festive solidarity by pledging full opposition to this strike. Perhaps the people of the London should reflect upon the fact that your misplaced sense of ‘solidarity’ is going to needlessly mess everyone about. My uncle drives a tube. My mother lives on disibility benefits. One of those individuals you should get off your arse and support; the other – not so much.

  • Robert_Crosby

    I’ll settle for Labour politicians not running like crazy to be “the first condemn” anyone who seeks to defend their interests at work. The trade union officials and full-time reps I’ve worked with have, contrary to incessant media propaganda, been entirely responsible people who only call for strikes as an absolute last resort. If a union calls a strike and gets it wrong, they’ll pay the price for it. That’s how it should be left.

  • franwhi

    Your wasting your breath with this lot Shell. However, it’s a nice goodwill peace for the Festive Season but Labour Party support for ASLEF collective action is as likely as Santa coming down your chimney to fill your stocking.

  • jaime taurosangastre candelas

    The ASLEF drivers are paid a salary which includes an element for working some bank holidays. This is a common arrangement across the public services (for example NHS staff, the police), and if they have “signed up to it”, they should have the grace to acknowledge their commitment.

    What they now ask for, on top of already receiving the extra money for “some” bank holiday working, is three days of pay, and a day off “in lieu”. See http://www.standard.co.uk/news/transport/boxing-day-tube-drivers-strike-to-go-ahead–and-there-could-be-more-8422435.html

    What this strike will cause is widespread disruption, and a wider loss to the economy. The Arsenal Football Club have cancelled a match, as an example.

    The union may be affiliated to the Labour Party, but that does not stop the leaders of the union from being short-sighted fools.

    The ASLEF drivers make it very easy for normal people to support the concept of trains with no drivers.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001102865655 John Ruddy

      Doesnt matter how much people “support the concept” – there are large numbers of technical and financial reasons why it wont be happening in my lifetime.

      The drivers are well within their rights to ask for this. The employer refuses to even discuss it. So what choice do they have? If the employer wants to run trains on the day in question, they will have to sit down and come to an agreement as to how much they pay the drivers to work on that day – surely thats only right and fair?

      • jaime taurosangastre candelas

        The drivers are well within their rights to ask for this

        Did you miss the part in which the drivers are already part for working on some bank holidays, and that they have agreed to this arrangement? And given so, it is not unexpected that the employers do not wish to be blackmailed.

      • jaime taurosangastre candelas

        The drivers are well within their rights to ask for this

        Did you miss the part in which the drivers are already paid for working on some bank holidays, and that they have agreed to this arrangement? And given so, it is not unexpected that the employers do not wish to be blackmailed.

        So a question. You say that there are technical and financial reasons why driver-less trains are not going to be here soon, and as I know little of trains, I cannot doubt you. But how about a union-less workforce, because there is only one way in which this behaviour is leading?

      • jaime taurosangastre candelas

        The drivers are well within their rights to ask for this

        Did you miss the part in which the drivers are already paid for working on some bank holidays, and that they have agreed to this arrangement? And given so, it is not unexpected that the employers do not wish to be blackmailed.

        So a question. You say that there are technical and financial reasons why driver-less trains are not going to be here soon, and as I know little of trains, I cannot doubt you. But how about a union-less workforce, because there is only one way in which this behaviour is leading?

      • jaime taurosangastre candelas

        The drivers are well within their rights to ask for this

        Did you miss the part in which the drivers are already paid for working on some bank holidays, and that they have agreed to this arrangement? And given so, it is not unexpected that the employers do not wish to be blackmailed.

        So a question. You say that there are technical and financial reasons why driver-less trains are not going to be here soon, and as I know little of trains, I cannot doubt you. But how about a union-less workforce, because there is only one way in which this behaviour is leading?

      • jaime taurosangastre candelas

        The drivers are well within their rights to ask for this

        Did you miss the part in which the drivers are already paid for working on some bank holidays, and that they have agreed to this arrangement? And given so, it is not unexpected that the employers do not wish to be blackmailed.

        So a question. You say that there are technical and financial reasons why driver-less trains are not going to be here soon, and as I know little of trains, I cannot doubt you. But how about a union-less workforce, because there is only one way in which this behaviour is leading?

      • jaime taurosangastre candelas

        The drivers are well within their rights to ask for this

        Did you miss the part in which the drivers are already paid for working on some bank holidays, and that they have agreed to this arrangement? And given so, it is not unexpected that the employers do not wish to be blackmailed.

        So a question. You say that there are technical and financial reasons why driver-less trains are not going to be here soon, and as I know little of trains, I cannot doubt you. But how about a union-less workforce, because there is only one way in which this behaviour is leading?

      • jaime taurosangastre candelas

        The drivers are well within their rights to ask for this

        Did you miss the part in which the drivers are already paid for working on some bank holidays, and that they have agreed to this arrangement? And given so, it is not unexpected that the employers do not wish to be blackmailed.

        So a question. You say that there are technical and financial reasons why driver-less trains are not going to be here soon, and as I know little of trains, I cannot doubt you. But how about a union-less workforce, because there is only one way in which this behaviour is leading?

        • Redshift1

          A worker on really poor pay has ‘signed up to’ the really poor pay. That doesn’t and shouldn’t remove their rights to collectively bargain for an improved deal.

          Whether or not this particular strike is justified or not, your argument here is complete nonsense.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001102865655 John Ruddy

          So what you’re saying is that train drivers should join the army and police in being banned from joining a union? Thats a basic human right there. The right to withdraw labour.

          If the employers do not wish to be blackmailed, thats fine, they too have that right. Then they should accept that the drivers then have the right to carry out their threat – and should stop blaming them and get round the table to negotiate. A strike is ultimately a sign of failure – a failure to negotiate and that one side or the other doesnt want to talk. And since the only way the union will get what it wants is through talking, its obvious that most strikes are caused by employers not wanting to talk to resolve a problem – coming to a compromise and an agreement that satisfies everyone.

          The technical reasons are that new trains would need to be built, and the stations heavily modified. It is currently not possible to run a service as intensive on some lines automatically, so there are lots of technical issues to be solved. In the process of conversion, each tube line would need to be closed for several years to modify them. Assuming you did each line in turn, thats a 20 year programme, once you even now how to do it.

          And the financial reasons? Well, we’ve just bought a whole load of new trains – and going out to tender on a bunch more. The cost of scrapping all those, and buying new ones, a massive station reconstruction programme (because its not just the trains you need to change) would make the deficit look like pocket money. And people say its Labour who play fast and loose with public money!! You want to tell Londoners that the Northern Line is to be closed for the next 4 years? Then the Central for 3 years? Etc etc? Can you think of the chaos on the streets of London that would cause, not just for one parliament, but probably for 2 or more.

    • http://www.facebook.com/simon.weller1 Simon Weller

      As the National Organiser for ASLEF perhaps I could correct a couple of points you make.

      Firstly we have not asked for triple time and a day in lieu – a myth borne of the Evening Standard I’m afraid. Slightly surprised you cite them as a reliable source. We have asked for an enhancement and a system of booking for Boxing Day based on volunteers. Both items in amount and method are negotiable.

      The point about having “signed up to it” is erroneous; the 1992 Company Plan consolidated payments for bank holidays which was accepted. However, at the time there was no Boxing Day service so it was never an issue. Now there is nearly a full service on Boxing Day so unless you’re rest day you’re working. We didn’t “sign up” to that twenty years ago.

      We recognised that agreements change and need updating as service requirements change and have been trying to reach a negotiated settlement for three years.

      LUL management drag their feet for another twelve months then have the nerve to sit in a room with us for six hours as we put forward solutions (note they made no suggestions to resolve the dispute) and after we believe we have a jointly agreed settlement they pull stumps and say they’re not prepared to accept a volunteers system.

      I’m glad you raise good old Arthur as he’s almost the Godwin law of industrial action – key difference is we are acting on the demands and a 90% mandate of our members. If trade unions don’t represent the wishes of the grass roots members then who do they represent?

    • http://www.facebook.com/simon.weller1 Simon Weller

      As the National Organiser for ASLEF perhaps I could correct a couple of points you make.

      Firstly we have not asked for triple time and a day in lieu – a myth borne of the Evening Standard I’m afraid. Slightly surprised you cite them as a reliable source. We have asked for an enhancement and a system of booking for Boxing Day based on volunteers. Both items in amount and method are negotiable.

      The point about having “signed up to it” is erroneous; the 1992 Company Plan consolidated payments for bank holidays which was accepted. However, at the time there was no Boxing Day service so it was never an issue. Now there is nearly a full service on Boxing Day so unless you’re rest day you’re working. We didn’t “sign up” to that twenty years ago.

      We recognised that agreements change and need updating as service requirements change and have been trying to reach a negotiated settlement for three years.

      LUL management drag their feet for another twelve months then have the nerve to sit in a room with us for six hours as we put forward solutions (note they made no suggestions to resolve the dispute) and after we believe we have a jointly agreed settlement they pull stumps and say they’re not prepared to accept a volunteers system.

      I’m glad you raise good old Arthur as he’s almost the Godwin law of industrial action – key difference is we are acting on the demands and a 90% mandate of our members. If trade unions don’t represent the wishes of the grass roots members then who do they represent?

  • JoeDM

    The sooner the tube moves to driverless trains like the DLR the better.

  • JoeDM

    The sooner the tube moves to driverless trains like the DLR the better.

  • JoeDM

    The sooner the tube moves to driverless trains like the DLR the better.

  • JoeDM

    The sooner the tube moves to driverless trains like the DLR the better.

  • JoeDM

    The sooner the tube moves to driverless trains like the DLR the better.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001102865655 John Ruddy

      You dont know much about trains, do you? Although the DLR doesnt have “drivers” as such, it has staff who perform similar safety critical roles. If they go on strike, the trains dont go.

      And the tube are at LEAST 50 years away from driverless trains, even of the type used on the DLR. The new trains currently being ordered are not suitable for it, and will have a lifetime of 40-50 years – they couldnt be afforded otherwise.

      • camsw4

        In vancouver canada we have a totally driverless system. We get by just fine

  • robertcp

    I do not know if the Tube drivers are correct to go on strike but all workers have a right to withdraw their labour.

    • Redshift1

      Finally someone talking sense!

      • camsw4

        I think its oppotunistic to do this over boxing day. Id have a slight crumb of respect for them if they waited a few days later.

  • Winston_from_the_Ministry

    “hese demands are the product of a democratic members’ ballot, to which
    90% of drivers voted in favour (a majority the PM could only dream of).”

    I’m not so sure. When do MPs next vote on their pay?

    • camsw4

      90% of those who responded. The majority of eligible responders didnt vote.

  • camsw4

    by the way it was 90% of a small respondent sample of the total population of probable voters. So its not like 90% of the workforce agreed to strike!

  • SR819

    The fact that Rail workers earn a relatively good wage is testament to the great work of Unions in providing dignity to the working class in employment. Rather than say, “let’s lower the standards of rail workers to that of a sweatshop worker in a developing country” we should be aiming to unionise more sectors of the economy, so that low paid insecure workers can also start to enjoy the fruits of their labour.

    I don’t understand the concept of a “just” strike. All strikes are justified, because the relationship of Labour to the means of production in a capitalist economy is inherently unjust.

  • http://twitter.com/JoshDixonTweets Joshua Dixon

    “but many seem to forget that driving the tubes is a dangerous job that takes responsibility for hundreds of lives at a time. It also involves unsociable hours, suicides and infrequent exposure to daylight. And they haven’t been granted lieu days for working a bank holiday for 20 years now; hence the strike.”

    My mum and fiancee earn much much less and their jobs are even more dangerous (theyre in the fire service), they don’t just have other lives to think about but with my mums fiancees case he has his own to think about. I marched with my mum when she went on strike in 2002 as there were genuine demands for a much better wage. I have had to spend christmas days in the past without my mum due to her working on christmas day before so to use the hours or days they work as an excuse is a non argument as they are not in some sort of unusual position. Maybe when they’ve spent a minimum of 12+ hours all night in the freezing cold saving lives for a much smaller wage, then they’ll how lucky they are to have such a decent wage and a great job.

    I have much respect for the tube drivers and of course respect their right to strike but I think the intentions are completely ill judged.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dan.mccurry.18 Dan McCurry

    My mouth is wide open, and my eye brows are pointing skyward.

  • MonkeyBot5000

    Tube drivers earn almost twice as much as their peers above-ground, an
    injustice: our vision as trade unionists should be to strive for decent
    pay and conditions across the board.

    Which is why it’s hard to support people in the top 20% or so of earners demanding more money when the people on far lower salaries who are using the tube aren’t seeing any increase in their own incomes.

    • http://www.facebook.com/shellyasquith Shelly Asquith

      They may not be seeing an increase in their own income, but they are within their own right to fight for one.
      Stop moaning and join a union, get active, and do what the drivers are doing. Otherwise we’ll all be be on shit pay and conditions forever.

  • http://twitter.com/JohnMcM1 John McManus

    Three day’s pay plus a day off in lieu – ASLEF are hardly campaigning for the Living Wage with this action.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jim.crowder2 Jim Crowder

    Where’s the UK Labour List site? All I can find is this one devoted to London affairs. I don’t live in London, so don’t care about the Tube drivers complaining that their employers chose not to change their contract of work.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jim.crowder2 Jim Crowder

    Where’s the UK Labour List site? All I can find is this one devoted to London affairs. I don’t live in London, so don’t care about the Tube drivers complaining that their employers chose not to change their contract of work.

  • Danny

    Ms Asquith obviously did not travel through London on Boxing Day. I live in South London and was working in Watford. To say my journey to work was difficult is an understatement but more importantly getting home was near impossible. ASLEF showed a complete disregard for the public’s well being and safety.

  • http://www.facebook.com/shellyasquith Shelly Asquith

    Careful or the wind will change…

  • MonkeyBot5000

    Since my previous reply didn’t get through, I’ll try again.

    Don’t assume that everyone who disagrees with you is just moaning and too lazy to join a union. I never said that they don’t have the right to fight for an increase in their income, but I am equally within my rights to fight against an increase in my transport costs. They have fantastic pay and conditions compared to some of us who use the tube – unionised or not – and increasing their pay will increase our tube fairs.

    How about you stop moaning and get active in campaigning for those of us who aren’t part of a massive unionised industry?

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