Thursday, 11 June 2009

Keep Calm and Carry On

So London is in the midst of a 48 hour Tube strike which ends tonight at 6.58pm (not making it up 6.58 not 6.57 or 7.00 exactly). Needless to say when you take away the transport that 3 million people use everyday there is some chaos.

Why are they striking? What I have been able to understand after some reading is that basically in an economic down turn the union is not happy with a two percent over inflation pay rise on an already decent wage. They also want a guarantee that there will be no compulsory redundancies and at the last minute just to make things interesting they insisted that two union member who were in the process of employment tribunals for serious misconduct be reinstated. One was fired for serious breach of health and safety issues such as opening the doors on the wrong side at a busy tube station and for failing to complete routine mandatory safety checks. The other employee’s case can not be discussed in public.

So what does Yank think? I have struggled a lot with this topic please understand I do not believe that unions are a bad thing or that strikes even though they disrupt day to day running are wrong. I feel however that in the case of this particular strike that the union is being unreasonable.

The average Tube driver make £40,000 a year, works a 35 hour work week, can not work within 12 hours of finishing a previous shift, is paid double time on bank holidays, has Christmas, Boxing day and New Years day off, and 6 weeks of annual leave.

The average salary in England is £18,000 based on a 40-48 hour work week, very few professions impose a 12 hour between shift restriction. By law you only have to pay 1.5 time on bank holidays and the average annual leave for England is 4 weeks.

I understand that there was a time when many workers were taken advantage of and working conditions were poor, in some professions this is still true and the needs for unions is strong to protect workers. I have in the past supported the idea of strike in cases such as teachers who in many instances earn little more than minimum wage, have in recent years been strip of authority to discipline in most cases, and who every year are forces to take on larger and large class sizes even though studies have shown this is at the detriment of the student.

One could argue that it is really easy for me to support a teacher’s strike when it has little impact on my day to day life. I do not have children, I don’t have to miss work to be with them when the schools close or scramble to make other arrangements for the hours that would be covered while they where in school. When I take a hard look at myself I can concede that the fact it has added on about 2 hours to my already 3 hour round trip commute has certainly made me grumpier and more sleep deprived but honestly not biased against the strike.

3 million people in England are out of work right now, of those who have a job a large number of them have had their salaries frozen or even decreased or asked to work fewer hours or days a week. I don’t know that now is the best time to be walking out on your job holding out for an above inflation pay rise and a guarantee of no mandatory redundancies. There is little public support behind this strike and of those I have spoken with at work, family members and friends I have yet to find anyone who feels this strike is justifiable. For me it was little more than a guarantee that I got my minimum of 5 miles of walking in a day as I walked the 3.15 miles back to my train station last night and will make the same journey tonight. I have been lucky in the mornings be in the right place at the right time to catch a bus all the way to work from my train station this morning and half way to work yesterday morning leaving only 1.5 miles to walk. Due to planning and an alarm clock set for 4.30 am each morning I have actually made it to work a few minutes early. My dorkiness for learning multiple bus routes and walking routes around London has insured that I was able make quick decisions when I saw buses that had room on them, while most people where trying to figure out if the bus that was approaching would get them where they wanted to go. There was definitely a Keep Calm and Carry On attitude by most Londoners as they took to the street with there printed Google maps and copies of London A-Z.

Tomorrow I will only be too glad to get on the tube and make the journey from my train station to work in 15 mins instead of an hour but maybe one day I can tell my grand kids I survived the great tube strike of 2009.

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