Johnson postures over driverless trains

Posted in Tubeworker's blog on Sun, 12/07/2020 - 12:53,
A graphic illustration of a Tube train

Driverless trains, every union-hating Tory's favourite imagined panacea, are back in the news again.

Weeks after LU made a commitment to unions that the new stock on the Piccadilly Line, the next line to be refurbished, would have drivers' cabs fitted, the Prime Minister suggested in an interview that one condition of ongoing government funding for TfL/LU should be a move towards driverless trains. He argued for this not on the basis that it would make the service any safer, but by saying "let's not be prisoners of the unions."

Cue mild uproar and some low-level panic on the job, before LU Managing Director Andy Lord took to social media to say "I want to be clear that there are no plans for driverless trains on the Tube."

The reality is that the time and financial outlay involved in upgrading the signalling systems on manual lines, and refitting the stock on lines that are already automatic, mean that TfL wouldn't see any "return" on a decision to move towards driverless trains (in terms of reduced overheads from slashing drivers' jobs) for decades. So even on its own terms, the push for driverless trains is not really about financial savings, it's simply about weakening organised labour.

Although Lord's announcement appears reassuring, and although the real technical barriers to implementing driverless trains are much higher than most of its advocates care to admit, or perhaps are even aware of, we can't afford to be complacent. The current government is deeply committed to attacking unions, and is still planning to bring forward new legislation to further restrict our right to strike. One of the strings attached to the recent funding bailout was direct government involvement in TfL governance; we can't rule out an ideologically-motivated drive by government officials to push for measures to weaken unions.

While we can't predict the future, we can prepare to fight any and all attacks that do come our way - and get out on the front foot by planning disputes around positive demands.

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