The following article appears in today’s Evening Standard.
It is to the eternal credit of us Londoners that we deal with travel disruption by rolling our eyes, having a quiet grumble but carrying calmly on. However, I suspect the latest call from the RMT union’s Bob Crow for six days of industrial action over two weeks makes a lot of people want to escalate their muffled irritation to open outrage.
Their anger will be added to by reports today that plans are under consideration to give Tube workers a pay rise in exchange for a promise not to strike during next year’s Olympics – if true, a pretty straightforward bribe.
Many employees in the public and private sectors face wage freezes. The rising cost of travel is stretching household budgets. Businesses large and small in my own constituency and beyond rely on the smooth running of the transport network. Yet despite the fact that we underpin a supposedly reliable Tube through both our taxes and fares, the entire capital faces huge disruption simply because the RMT wants two Tube drivers reinstated. One of them was sacked for allegedly breaching safety procedures (although his case has now been upheld by an employment tribunal), the other for allegedly abusing a fellow worker. Both are now sitting at home on full annual pay of £45,000. The strikes seem more like a case of two mollycoddled employees shafting the rest of the working population rather than union solidarity.
All this comes at a time when there is record investment in London’s transport infrastructure. We shall soon reap the benefits of Crossrail, while amid the disruption every weekend, tremendous strides are being taken to bring the Tube into the 21st century. How can it be right for the taxpayer to make that investment while a militant minority of RMT agitators hold us to ransom? Rather than attracting public sympathy, Mr Crow’s antics risk undermining his union’s entire cause.
The right to strike is essential in a free society but it is now time to redress the balance and impose additional safeguards to prevent a militant minority from successfully pushing through strike action. Confrontation is not in the public interest, but enough is enough. It has been proposed that a change be made to the law (which currently provides trade unions with immunities) that would make strike action require the support of a majority of members eligible to vote. In light of the economic havoc the RMT seems determined to wreak, most Londoners would regard this as sensible. If the RMT wishes to avoid stirring the Government to such action, it would do well to heed the warning of Transport Secretary Philip Hammond, who says the union is making its own case for a change in the law.
Unlike British Leyland militant Derek “Red Robbo” Robinson in the 1970s or the National Union of Mineworkers’ Arthur Scargill in the 1980s, Bob Crow is not leading his industry into oblivion. The Tube will outlive him and his sidekicks. That is why it is important that we show the world that a global city like London is open for business and take firm steps to restore sanity to the running of our Underground.