A non-partisan journal of the left.

ASLEF Tube Driver Strike: Look beyond the picket line to see the real story..

Thu 17th Jan 2013

On Boxing Day, ASLEF members employed by London Underground Limited (LUL) staged a 24 hour strike, and the press have been predictable in attempting to whip up hysteria and outrage against both the Tube Drivers exercising their legal and human right, as well as the union itself.

Whilst this dispute centres around a long standing disagreement regarding pay for Bank Holidays, I find the arguments thrown around by histrionic journalists, and right wing agitators to be as infinitely interesting, as they are hypocritical.

The people trying hardest to contaminate the truth about the tube strike are slavish and blind devotees to the power of the markets, who habitually champion the cause of letting the value of component parts determine the final destination, unless that final destination is a well paid workforce.

These people believe it is fine for millionaire bankers and tax dodging CEOs to grow ever richer, ignoring the disgusting pay disparities between the shop floor and the board room. Yet, when a group of 'ordinary' workers benefit from these mysterious market forces, the very same 'free marketeers' suddenly become extremely hot under the collar!

Right wing papers, and Conservative mouth pieces have been quick to underline the salaries of Tube Drivers. Nobody can deny that the Pay & Conditions are streets ahead of what many workers experience.

But that pay reflects an arduous working cycle, decimated family life, and complex legal & operational responsibilities which carry harsh judicial penalties for the briefest mistake or misfortune.

(Ask Mersey Rail Guard Christopher McGee)

The Tory Mayor of London needs to check the history books before decrying ASLEF members. It was a Conservative administration that privatised the railways against the will of the people.

One of the basic tenets of privatising ANYTHING is that you instantly attach a monetary value to each component part, and railways are no different.

Because it takes so long to train a Train Driver, our expertise and Labour attract a premium that reflects our pivotal operational position, and the capital investment needed to fund our training.

Whilst Tube Drivers operate slightly differently to us mainline Drivers, we share many skill sets. Tube Drivers shoulder similar responsibilities, work the same demanding shift cycles, and attract a similar financial premium due to their geographic location, and the constant need of LUL to pay a wage preventing their Tube Drivers from retraining with a mainline operator for higher wages.

This is the free market. The same blood lusting right wingers have no problem with bankers pay, but find it distasteful that a 'lowly' Tube Driver earns a viable living wage. When all is said and done, Boris and his chums at the Daily Mail and the Evening Standard need to get real.

Instead of wasting energy trying to turn lower paid workers against the Tube Drivers by railing against their pay packets, Boris & co need to concede that it was their failed ideology of Thatcherite free market dogma that handed ASLEF & RMT the industrial power they now use so effectively.

Would a cleaner earning minimum wage find it distasteful to learn of how much a Tube Driver earns? Undoubtedly.

Does that make it wrong for Tube Drivers to use the same free market system that's made many a Tory MP rich, to improve their lot and force LUL to negotiate with them respectfully and seriously? Not at all.

Observers need to exercise caution; Boris, Cameron, and their 'hack' friends will continue to try and position themselves as being on the side of 'ordinary people' in the fight against 'vested interests'.

Despite their best efforts to convince the public otherwise, this is not the real story.

The real story is their desire to have their cake and eat it, as well as their complicity in hacking mercilessly at the rights of dedicated working people who have not been fortunate enough to be members of a strong union, or to have inadvertently benefitted from what was the most glaring, disingenuous, dogmatic and economically illiterate policy that the Tories have forced upon us in generations.

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