Once again, we find ourselves in the ridiculous situation of hard working Londoners being held to ransom by a small number of relatively well paid tube workers.
It is completely unacceptable that a disagreement over pay in one profession can threaten to bring the entire capital juddering to a standstill, inflict misery on commuters and cost businesses millions in lost trade.
Tube drivers have a vital role to play in London’s success as a global services capital that is easy to get around, but right now they are abusing their position of power at our expense.
It’s all the more galling that this is a dispute over implementing a 24 hour tube network – something that every Londoner I have met has an overwhelming desire to see implemented. Unions must not be allowed to scupper or delay this deal.
But if the issue isn’t introducing a modern, 24 hour tube network, then it’s something else. These strikes are happening far too often, and they cost Londoners far too much. It was recently estimated that the cost of industrial action over the six years from 2005-11 was as high as £1bn.
This has to stop.
First and foremost, we have to stop a few thousand members of a belligerent union holding us hostage every time they are unhappy with something. There were 26 disputes leading to strike action within London Underground and the bus operating companies since May 2008.
The Government has promised to legislate to require strike thresholds. The Government’s proposal is that for strike action to go ahead, strike ballots would require a 50% turnout and 40% support threshold. Had these thresholds been in place we would have had 7 strikes over the last 7 years. I think there is a case for the Government to go further: if the thresholds were 50% turnout and 50% support – in other words a majority of all eligible union members – then we would have had just 5 strikes since May 2008.
Perhaps an even better idea is that suggested by the GLA Conservatives. They have proposed banning public transport strikes and replacing them with a system called binding pendulum arbitration. What this means is that a judge would decide between the two competing positions of the unions and London Underground. The judge could not suggest a compromise. He or she would just decide which position was the most reasonable. What I like about this system is that it creates a real incentive for both sides to be moderate and realistic in their demands.
Either way, it is clearly no longer acceptable for a few militant trade union leaders to regularly seek to squeeze yet more money out of the hard-pressed London taxpayer and fare payer. London is a great city but its position as a services capital of the world is fragile and dependant on it remaining a convenient place to do business. We cannot have that position jeopardised by Unions repeatedly disrupting our basic need to get to work and travel round our city.
First published on The Huffington Post in July 2015