Union and management should grow up

I do not generally have much sympathy for Bob Crow. He runs a union as a political project, and therefore much of what he says is obviously contradictory. He wants renationalisation and an end to private sector involvement, yet his constant threatening of strikes and his very confrontational style of negotiation means that not only is no one prepared to listen to what he says, but also that the last thing any government would want to do is to give his union more power by bringing transport more into the public fold.

Take, too, bringing back Metronet in house which is what Crow wanted. Of course there are likely to be superfluous jobs and the management must be allowed to cut back on those. The whole point of bringing  it back in house is to make it more efficient and cut out the kind of duplication that was inherent in the PPP . By making life so difficult for TfL, Crow’s is making it more likely that the government – or its successor – will seek some sort of PPP solution, though I doubt it can in the present economic climate.

Crow, by being so obdurate, negates his own case. His militancy is giving the government every possible reason to avoid bringing in any more services in house. Of course he knows this. He belongs to a small ultra left party and one of the tactics of the ultra left has long been to make impossibilist demands, attempting to expose the contradictions of the employers and therefore getting everyone to join the revolutionary Party. Most of us grew out of that sort of thing back in the 1970s but Crow and a few of his top people in the RMT subscribe to this theory, though of course they do not dare espouse it openly.

The strike today is just plain daft but the old leftie does have a point when he says that TfL nearly came to a deal and then seemed to have pulled away from it.  When Boris Johnson was confronted with this on the Today programme he just blustered as usual and gave no convincing explanation as to why there was an eleventh hour breakdown in negotiations. That is not to excuse the tube workers going on strike at a time when many people are experiencing loss of job or cuts in their wages. But unless TfL or the mayor certainly ought to be able to answer questions about the breakdown rather better than they have so far, it seems they may have been guilty of playing games too. Meanwhile the rest of us suffer, though when I went for my morning run it was great to see the number of cyclists who had taken to the road. Let’s hope the sun shines on them over the next two days.

  • Keith

    As a result of the strike, no Chiltern or Overground trains are stopping at Wembley for tonight’s football – “fears of overcrowding”. Remind me again why we subsidise these services, if not to deal with moving large numbers of people around?

  • I work in Network Rail on critical maintenence. I used to work on p-way for a few years and I just want to comment on a couple of points. I have been rostered the same shift pattern since joining the technical department I am now in. Some of the other guys have worked this same roster for over 20 years. Now the roster has changed and the company reason is business needs come first. Despite what anyone thinks of unions or Bob Crow the fact remains that guys like myself are now seeing an increase in working hours. Our managers have no trust in us and any respect is now out of the window. We are treated like robots.
    What unions have fought years for is wiped out in seconds by senior managers using the recession as an excuse. If anyone thinks that we actualy want to strike and go without pay is in cloud cukoo land.
    We deserve to have our pay protected. Our family life should be considered. The biggest complainers on this are the people who have no idea of the job and that includes managers who do not suffer unsociable hours who still get massive bonuses and do little more than make cut after cut on the work force.
    Bob Crow may have some political ideology that I do not agree with but any strike action is balloted and is always reluctant. I fear that in the next few months we too on the overland track maintenence will also be going on strike as this attack on workers is just not acceptable.
    I do agree with you on one sentiment and it does appear as if we are going back to the 1970’s. Yet what I see is that the worker who has had years of struggle to get better conditions is being blamed for the state of the rail network. The blame lies with incompetent managers, the bonus culture and weak willed government. That is the paralell with the 1970’s not a militant work force. I just want to do my job get paid and go home. What is begining to happen here is that they want to pay us peanuts and what do you get if you pay peanuts?

  • Christian

    Interesting post. You make an excellent point about working longer hours. It is remarkable that for many the norm seemed to be about reducing hours, now ‘flexible’ working seems to be demanded of more and more people. I only wish that there were a union leadership that was more able to exploit these genuine grievances without seeming to have an overt political project that many members would not agree with.

  • So much for harmonisation and flexibility. I have just returned home after a night shift. Before commencing I met with my manager (one of the good ones) to discuss some flexibility in the unsociable rosters. I was told that if I went down the road of arguing our case then things would get much worse and the senior management could roster our department the maximum of 7 weekend shifts and including 4 double weekend shifts in a 13 week period. In other words keep my mouth shut and things will not get any worse.
    This is the sort of thing that rail passengers do not see. How we are treated in the work place of rail maintenence. This does not induce harmony amongst the guys. It is bad enough that we are in difficult times and then Network Rail in its wisdom comes out with bullying tactics like this. They just do not give a hoot about the strain that these conditions put on personal relationships and general family life.
    I love my job and take pride in the fact I am doing my bit to keep trains from derailing and overting potential death whilst facing real personal dangers myself. All I ask is that next time there may be a strike people give some thought into why any strike has been called.

  • I would like to support John’s views above. The way the maintenance staff on NR are being treated is a disgrace, he is quite correct in his statement that the management are not doing their job properly and then taking it out on the staff. What I don’t understand is how they can get away with the rostering of four double shifts when we signallers have very strict limits on doubling back and overtime? This will quite likely result in something really bad happening eventually (another Grayrigg or Hatfield), NR will then be right in the firing line and probably go the same way as Railtrack. I have heard S&T staff say they were better off under AMEC than they are with NR, which rather undermines the ‘bring it inhouse’ argument. As for Bob Crow and the comrades, they may be a lot of unreconstructed old lefties but they know how to defend jobs and conditions, which is why most of us are prepared to support them. As John points out there is a ballot before any action, funny how democracy is such a bad thing when it produces a result that management and politicians don’t like, just ask Hamas.

  • Malcolm

    Great commentary by Christian.

    What most condemmers of Bob Crow tend to do is to try and blacken the whole union movement, by picking on Bob Crow’s example.

    Bob Crow is a very specific phenonmen and is tied to the Trotskyite hard-left, which is largely absent from today’s trade union.

    What did disappoint me about Christian’s article was that he failed to name the actual hard-left party which Crow is a member of. I think is the Communist Party of Great Britain.

    That said about Crow. Sure there may be somethings in the rail industry which he is probably correct on. But in his actions, he does nothing to gain sympathy for RMT members rights. He will probably use the old right-wing bias press excuse, which is a really a hopeless excuse for somebody with no PR skills.

  • Drayman

    Forgive my simple mind, but I would have thought a divided railway gave a union more power. Generally speaking a divided ‘enemy’ is weaker.

  • kenball

    There are and have only ever been four ways to force an employer to negotiate properly: strikes, disinvestment, boardroom takeovers and legal action. Which of these options is a union supposed to use when their employer tries to undermine their pay and conditions? How are union leaders supposed to react when an employer tries to force longer, more inflexible, more onerous and more inconvenient shifts upon rail workers for the same or less money? Bob Crow has a big mouth, but his judgement when it comes to protecting his member’s jobs has always been sound and his record speaks for itself a lot better than those peole who say that that he would have got better deals by being less “confrontational”. Blaming the unions for the inflexible, disaggregated, non-strategic, overpriced, inefficent and customer-unfriendly aspects of our rail system (over which they have no control) and central government’s failure to do anything about it is exactly the kind of dishonest and evasive thinking that created these conflicts between management and union in the first place.

  • Kenball above has nailed it.
    Given news today of the huge bonuses enjoyed by the elitist Directors is just another example of where we are allowing industry to be corrupted. I do not agree on a bonus scheme in this sector. I got a bonus of £740. I would rather have my old roster back. Then I could spend time with my family and once every few weeks enjoy a social night with some friends. Since this new roster has come into effect I have had no time to visit my elderly Mother who lives in another county. I have had one night out in the last 13 weeks. Yes this is the progress of modern Britain and a rail industry under private rules. Network Rail managers are so out of touch with the reality of the work force that it is a very unfunny joke.
    We have rejected Network rail’s harmonisation by an overwhelming majority. Yet what do the senior managers take from this! as much cash as they can. The only way to have a proper rail service is to put it back in public hands 100%. Get rid of these parasites demanding bonuses while attacking the workforce and cutting back on safety. As I have pointed out in many of my blogs in the Telegraph and Guardian the current regime in Network Rail just does not work and tax payers money is being wasted in colossal amounts. If the government want a move to transparency then it should apply to this company. Only then may the workers get a better deal and the passengers a better service. I have pointed out huge waste yet I may as well be talking to a brick wall.

  • RapidAssistant

    Witness now the RMT picking a fight with NX on “pay and conditions” on the Anglia franchise.

    Clearly Crow is seizing the opportunity to kick the company when it is bleeding in a hope to try an futher throw petrol onto a raging fire.

  • Dan

    Just got this in my in box from RailEurope (SNCF UK) – I think there are soem messages for both Lord Adonis and Bob Crow….

    Why travel by train in Russia?

    Train travel in Russia is convenient, comfortable, and generally safe.
    You can choose when you want to travel, with a range of day and night train options and regular connecting services.
    Tickets are available to suit every budget with first, second and third class options.
    Russian trains are reliable – they’re 100% state owned and never have strikes.
    Russia’s rail network is very extensive and regular trains connect major cities and smaller towns all over the country – so it’s easy to get to exactly where you want to go.

  • RapidAssistant

    On a related issue – the RMT’s latest gripe is the one that struck Scotland this weekend. Forgive me as I have a chip on my shoulder this evening as my King’s X – Perth EC train was running beautifully until it got stuck north of Falkirk behind umpteen slow movers caused because ScotRail have had to implement an emergency timetable due to another RMT non-issue.

    To cut it short (for English readers who may not know), the new Airdrie-Bathgate line due to open at the end of this year, which restores the chunk of track between the Glasgow-Airdrie and Bathgate-Edinburgh commuter routes, thus opening a fourth Glasgow-Edinburgh route.

    For many years, the Glasgow/SPT commuter routes have been driver only operated. The RMT is arguing that the new section of line now makes it an inter-city route and therefore one man operation is no longer suitable for it and a guard is now required. But the argument is farcical when in fact the Glasgow Central-Edinburgh stopping services that run via South Lanarkshire have been driver only for donkeys years.

    Well folks – you decide!