What I dislike most about the Tube Strike is that it seems to turn me into a ranting Tory. Last year, I was the bleeding-heart liberal tutting at people who ‘did a little dance’ at Thatcher’s passing whilst arguing her pernicious historical influence. Today, however, Bob Crow’s futile strike has got me thinking about how she managed to modernize Britain.
I’m not an expert on the ins-and-outs of the strike, but I do understand that only 30% of RMT union members even voted for industrial action and that there are not plans for any compulsory redundancies at ticket offices. Staff will be moved onto platforms and station concourses, where they can be of more use to commuters. This sounds like sensible modernisation to me – as a daily tube user, I never visit the ticket office, taking the opportunity to top up my Oyster card online. Whenever I have an issue there’s always a member of staff by the wide gate to help out. That’s enough for me.
The end of the ticket office is a natural progression – TfL is attempting to move with the times and ensure that Tube staff are deployed in the most useful and cost-effective way. There has already been interest from 450 employees in voluntary redundancies, and no compulsory redundancies will be made as long as staff remain ‘flexible.’ It is yet to be seen what this actually means, but flexibility has always been demanded of staff in the private sector and any changes that were too extreme would be classed as constructive dismissal anyhow.
The other side of the coin is that this is an example of yet another broken promise from dear old Boris, who pledged a ticket office at every station (as we were reminded delightfully yesterday by Steve Bell in his Guardian cartoon). To be honest, I’m not his biggest fan but this (rightly) is an issue for Transport for London to resolve as they think best. They handle a hugely complicated system in a massive city and have the best knowledge and data regarding passenger behaviour.
Inevitably TfL have problems with the out-of-date tube stock, overcrowding, funding reductions from government and subsequent price rises, but on the whole they do their job well. Look at the massive improvements to the London Overground – since TfL took over the lines, the service has gained improved trains, is more reliable and an extension between South West and North East London has ensured that the South of the city is better connected than ever before. Plans for a 24 hour tube service at weekends are decades too late but finally seem to be afoot, and could add 200 jobs. I’m in their corner.
The strikes this and next week are very unlikely to get anywhere – BoJo won’t crumble, and unless Crow is totally blind to reality (which is entirely possible), he will know deep down that this industrial action will not have the desired effect. As a result the strikes appear as little more than a flexing of the muscles, posturing from the RMT and TSSA for no other real purpose than to show their power in numbers. They are doing the reputation of union action in general no favours.