Saturday, July 11, 2015

In Support of the Tube Strikers

On general principle, I tend to show support for, and solidarity with, strikers. Reading the right-wing media in the days leading up to this week’s tube strike made this a bit more difficult: the rhetoric was that tube drivers are well-paid, and are greedily holding out for more money, even rejecting a very good (read: lucrative) offer in order to skive off for a day.

After I shared a Huffington Post article supporting the strikers yesterday, a friend of mine responded with this piece of right-wing propaganda that’s been doing the rounds:

I have several problems with this table.

It claims that tube drivers are paid up to £60k per year, whereas those at the top of the scale are paid just under £50k per year.  Meanwhile, NHS nurses can earn over £65k, and the top doctors are paid over £100k.

Tube drivers are towards the top of the London Underground pay scale – the people you see every day in stations are on about £30k. These are the staff who have to deal with the worst of the public. Take Tony, for example (quote taken from BBC live text, 19:00 and 19:11 entries):
"We are the first face that customers see and we regularly get lots of grief. I was assaulted recently by a customer because we were enforcing a one-way barrier system. He grabbed me and started threatening me. I am not paid to put up with that abuse but it's a reality of the job.

"Luckily for me there were other staff in the vicinity. Under the new night Tube plans I could be on my own. Not a week goes by that we don't have three calls to the British Transport Police but it can take them up to half an hour to get there so you are basically dealing with it by yourself."

"We've been told there will be more police officers around, but we have had no assurances about how visible they will be. It's no good if they are up in the control room or sitting with the driver if something is going on at the back of the train or in another part of the station.

"We don't want to cause disruption but it's the only option we have left to get management to address the issues we have."

Many people seem to think that because tube drivers are paid relatively well and were at some point offered a raise, they have no right to go on strike. However, it’s not about the money:
“It’s about the life/work balance for Tube drivers in London and making sure that change is negotiated, not imposed.”

However, thanks to the underhand tactics of London Underground management, that’s exactly what would have happened without a strike.
“Our members on London Underground voted overwhelmingly for strike action because the company tried to force through, without negotiation, new rosters which would mean Tube drivers would have to work an unlimited number of weekend and night shifts for no extra pay.

The responsibility for this strike rests entirely with the management of London Underground who have not negotiated seriously throughout this dispute. They wouldn’t talk to us for months and then, when they did sit down with us on Monday, gave us just a couple of hours to consider their proposals, which they knew was not long enough, and withdrew them at 6.30pm.”

It should be noted that those who work in the NHS knew of the long, unsocial and irregular hours they’d have to work before they even started training; it’s not as if these conditions are suddenly thrust upon them.

Yes, the conditions for doctors and nurses can suck, but the answer to that is not to bring everyone down to the same level; it is to hire more doctors and nurses and improve their working conditions.

Finally, NHS workers are allowed to strike, and even did so last year. Maybe if UNISON, Britain’s biggest health union, went on strike again, conditions would stand a better chance of improving. If they do strike, everyone should stand on the picket lines with them.

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