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Tube drivers have been crucified by Londoners for their decision to participate in industrial action, responding to TFL’s plans to run a 24 hour service on selected lines on Fridays and Saturdays. I don’t blame anybody for this reaction. The information people have to go on inevitably leads them to the conclusion that tube drivers are avaricious bastards who want to earn more money than the Prime Minister and work less hours than the Queen.
I’m not trying to influence anybody’s opinion but there are two sides to every story. Unfortunately only one has been told, which is due to the incompetence of the communications coming from trade unions and the right wing phlegm being vomited out of our beloved right wing newspapers.
“Throwing money at them and then calling them greedy for being opposed to you reducing their quality of life just about sums it up”
The otherwise complex arguments surrounding pay versus skills and working conditions have been boiled down into the following equation:
Easy job + less than ideal working hours = richer than Croesus
I don’t know if driving a tube is easy or not as I’ve never done it and I hope to good God that I never do. So the next time you hear a City worker declare, “I might become a tube driver”, please challenge him/her to actually go and do it. I mean seriously, if it’s such an easy job for such great pay why isn’t there a queue outside the TFL recruitment office as long as the ones caused by the chaotic strikes themselves?
Actually, a lot of people don’t fancy spending their day deep underground, in the dark, in a job which has little career progression or day-to-day satisfaction. The reality of the impact of shift work is another thing those of us with comfy 9-5 numbers deliberately fail to understand.
According to The Guardian: “Drivers will have the same number of weekends off as now”. And yet, the tube drivers they spoke to later in the same article claim that the actual number of weekends off could be as little as 1 in every 17. Allowing for the exaggeration of an exasperated man after a long shift driving an underground tube full of impatient twats having a microphone thrust at him – let’s assume it’s actually one in eight. That’s six or seven weekends off a year. And now we’re adding night weekend night shifts to that party. How’s your £50,000 a year looking now?
That takes me on to my favourite argument. The most fantastic piece of comparative journalism I’ve ever seen. According to The Daily Telegraph, “A newly-qualified soldier starts on around £17,945, while a tube driver rakes in nearly three times as much. The capital’s tube drivers make about twice as much as nurses, policeman, firefighters and teachers.”
I think we can first of all agree that all five of the professions above demand anti-social working hours including weekends, shift work, or working beyond the standard working day. However, what we can all also agree on is that these jobs are all horrifically underpaid. So they don’t make a good comparator for anything. They’re plain fucking wrong! The chronic undervaluation of skilled service industries is a wider problem.
Another Telegraph headline: “Tube manager paid almost as much as the PM.” People that work in recruitment earn way more than your beloved David Cameron my loves. That argument rages on and most of us agree that this isn’t really right either. At least he doesn’t have to pay for his lunch, travel, second home, third home or personal yacht, I guess.
What this all comes back to is the way we’re all led to measure everything against monetary value. A 24 hour tube service would be great but, to be honest, if it means tube workers can’t spend weekends with their families or have the same quality of life as the people they are ferrying around, I’m not interested. Throwing money at them and then calling them greedy for being opposed to you reducing their quality of life just about sums it up really.
It takes real nerve to strike in the current climate. Public sector employment is being cut, cheaper employees can be sourced through immigration, and tube drivers are staring down the barrel of a gun called driverless automation.
The greatest arbiter of sense I’ve seen in this whole debate was from spoof website the Daily Mash – with its headline: “Tube strikes supposed to be annoying”. They are supposed to be annoying. And to be honest I almost wish they were more annoying.