Tory candidate for mayor of London Boris Johnson unveiled his transport policy on March 3, including a promise to obtain a no-strike agreement on London Underground as well as the capital’s train services. This policy, echoing an earlier UK Independence Party manifesto pledge, further demonstrates the utterly reactionary agenda of the ex-public schoolboy Henley MP, who appears to have a serious chance of winning the election against Ken Livingstone.
Johnson, who previously attracted controversy by referring to black people as “picanninies”, also announced plans to scrap the £25 congestion charge for those people who feel the urge to drive their Land Rovers through the city. But more dangerous is his plan to attack the power of the RMT and one of the country’s most powerful groups of workers. Johnson commented,
“The RMT leadership have their thumb around the windpipe of London commuters and it’s time it was prised off. I want to end the chronic strikes by doing a deal with the workforce in which they agree in principle not to go on strike in exchange for an independent arbitration in the case of a dispute on pay and conditions.”
There is no way the RMT would agree to such a no-strike deal, a red herring policy designed by the Tories to answer Evening Standard style rants about tube workers. Neither would the ASLEF union, and (hopefully!) the TSSA, which very rarely takes industrial action. But while Johnson’s commentary is plainly reactionary, one of his points worthy of reply.
It really is true that many people — not just tube bosses — are pissed off when strikes happen. However, socialists must make the case that tube workers have the power to fight for commuters’ rights — as exemplified by striking against Metronet last autumn, which challenged privatisation and therefore opposed safety cuts and fare rises.
Furthermore, we must not foster any illusions in Ken Livingstone, who, while more palatable than the Tory bigot Boris Johnson, is by no means in the camp of the working class. Infamously, so-called “Red Ken” called upon tube workers to scab on strike action, crossing picket lines in the interests of his “progressive” administration. He furthermore endorsed the privatisation of the East London Line. His interests are promoting London as a centre for investment, somewhere where international business can make a profit.
In the mayoral elections we will critically call for a first preference vote for the Socialist Workers’ Party/“Left List” candidate Lindsey German, despite all of the faults of that organisation. We will call for a second preference vote for Livingstone — not because he is “less bad” than Boris Johnson (although that is in several ways true), but because of the vestigial trade union link to the Labour Party and the very marginal possibility of regaining a working-class voice in the party, despite Brown’s complete demolition of party democracy.