Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Crow's Last Stand?

Quite how the rest of the day is going to work out in London will have to be seen.  The Tube strike has had an impact that has affected other services.  It became close to going far worse when the signalling went down at the London Bridge Signal Centre affecting a large stretch of South Eastern Rail and some Southern services. 

With other signalling problems plus bad weather the risks of having very many people stranded in London overnight with a truly chaotic situation increased.  Hopefully, by dint of hard work and the rest the problems might be managed but it will not be easy on some routes.

At the root of the Tube problems are the issues with the drivers who face major changes as a result of technical advances.  It is possible to have trains without drivers on some routes and also to change the rostering on other routes, again due to changes.

In a grim way this marks a century of disputes with the drivers over rostering.  In 1914 the new demands of war and the impact on trains, passenger and freight imposed strains.  As the War left the railways in disarray and difficulty because maintenance, repairs and services there was a need for change.

Typically, the government attempted to do this by a massive "rationalisation" so by 1923 the many companies became four large ones with effective monopolies in some parts of their networks.  The changes that did result were often cosmetic together with replacing worn out locomotives and stock.

But one issue that went almost untouched was the used of drivers and firemen in that the rostering arrangements were largely retained.  On nationalisation in 1947 much the same applied with a limited number of changes done piece meal.  This continued until the end of British Rail.

One reason was that ASLEF, the drivers and fireman's union was a hard nut to crack because of their critical role.  Determined to maintain their elite status and the relevant wage differential they were equally concerned to maintain their numbers and strength.

For a taste of this there is a BBC News bulletin of 16 March 1982 featuring Ray Buckton then ASLEF General Secretary making it clear that neither compromise nor co-operation was on the table.  Buckton, a broad Yorkshire Left Wing Marxist, had a wider agenda than simple defence of jobs and salary.  Off duty he was good company.

During the late 70's and in this period, I bumped into him a time or two and had a pint, sometimes with the odd chaser in company with other leading trade union people.  This was a time when they knew that if they took on the government and the bosses they were usually onto a winner.

At the beginning of the 1980's Ray and the other union leaders knew that they were the only effective opposition to the Conservative Government and at a time when the Soviet Union looked like possible winners in the Cold War believed that history was on their side.

It wasn't and Ray eventually was left soaking up the sun in Portugal.  Bob Crow sees himself in that tradition of Union leaders.  Because of the key place of the drivers in the Tube network he has been able to work the system.  But if the system is not going to need drivers this may be his last hurrah.

Never mind Ray, remember Geronimo, although he was Mescalero rather than Crow.


  1. If you have the muscle to improve your pay and conditions above that which your job does not warrant then it will be no surprise to the rational if eventually ways will be found whereby that job is lost (is too high a minimum wage any different, I think not). Still that is human nature short-termism is the name of the game take all today and hope someone else in the future picks up the bill. Technology is advancing so fast these days sometimes it is the same greedy people who pay the price of that greed. Still the next London mayor could be a lefty so the comeuppence may be postponed until another sane person takes up the job.

  2. "But if the system is not going to need drivers this may be his last hurrah."

    I suppose they know that and intend to make hay while the sun shines.

  3. Can't blame anyone who's got a decent job protecting it, to be fair Bob Crow does his best for his members, who incidentally stick together...learn people, if you don't let them divide and rule, they don't divide and rule you.