Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The Tube Strikes Back

"I want a five percent pay raise per annum and fewer working hours...Yes, I realize we're in the middle of the worst recession since the Great Depression, the budget is already strained, and workers are losing their jobs all over the city, but those are all separate issues and I'm special. I also want you to reinstate those two guys who got canned for repeated and severe disciplinary offenses. I know that their indescretions were incompetent at best and bordered blatantly illegal at worst, but we're London Underground train conductors. We are untouchable."

That was essentially the message this week as labor talks between the London Underground and the RMT (Rail, Maritime, and Transport Workers) Union failed and resulted in the subsequent 48 hour strike by all London Underground train operators beginning at 6:59 pm June 9, lasting until Friday morning "sometime". The RMT wasn't keen on the city's offer of an annual pay increase above inflation. As a result, I will be working from home for the next two days along with a good majority of the rest of the city.

This isn't so much of a rant as it is a commentary on an interesting discussion currently occuring in London about worker's rights in the midst of bank nationalizations, countless firms being taken into administration, and a continuing free-for-all of redundancies. To be clear, these are the guys who have one of the most rewarding and cathartic jobs in the entire UK. They have the opportunity every morning to piss off the entire city of London; and they can do it while sitting down, eyes closed if need be.

Generally, I actually really like the tube system in London. Combined with the lightrail, the overground, the bus system, and the ferries (all systems together comprising Transport for London or TFL), it's probably the most integrated, efficient and reliable public transportation system I've traveled on in any city. I also stand up for workers if their rights are legitmately being trampled on and believe that unions have a place in the economic and political processes. With that said, these recent demands were not only poorly timed given the current state of the city, country, and overall economy, but were also unreasonable in light of the city's counter offer.

According to both RMT and London Underground representatives, the London Underground offered a four-year deal of 1.5 percent this year and then the inflation rate plus 0.5 percent or a two-year deal of 1 percent now and inflation plus 0.5 percent in year two. Although its obvious this offer isn't going to make anybody rich, it's a much better deal than a lot of London workers are getting at the time (workers whose jobs are much less rewarding and much more demanding and do not come with the added perks of irritating Londoners the world over).

As the next 48 hours unfold, I will attempt to keep track and make a record of how the strike impacts London. Will it be on a scale similar to the great snowstorm of January/February 2009 and shut down the entire city? (see Snowy Day in Londontown) My prediction is no. From what I can tell, the RMT is more ruthless and scournful than Mother Nature ever could be.


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