Ban Tube Strikes, Say Assembly Conservatives

The Conservatives on the London Assembly have tube strikes in their sights again, asking the government to ban strikes or make it much harder to call one.

A new report, Struck Out, cites a poll of Londoners’ opinions about tube strikes. They asked 285 people (a number Londonist’s resident scientist described as unlikely to have any statistical significance) and came up with the following:

  • 59% agreed with the statement “It is currently too easy for London’s tube workers to strike”
  • 47% were in favour of a ban on striking
  • 32% were in favour of a ballot threshold of 50% + 1 of all eligible union members
  • 20% thought the current system is fine or even too restrictive

What we find rather amusing is that the Conservatives are in a fury about strike action being called on ‘minority’ ballots, but are calling for major changes to employment law based on less than 50% approval for each option (in a small survey). ANYWAY. Seeing how we’re here, let’s take a look at the other potential options on the table.

Taylor Law
Taylor Law was introduced in New York following a 12 day subway strike in 1966. It gave NYC’s public sector employees union rights but removed the right to strike, replacing it with binding arbitration under a state agency. Strikes are still possible, but strikers forfeit an extra day’s pay for each strike day. Still, New York Metro staff have walked out on two occasions since Taylor Law was introduced.

Binding Pendulum Arbitration
This option also removes the right to strike and replaces it with independent arbitration – but under this system, the arbiter cannot compromise and can only choose between the options presented by each side. The idea is that it encourages reasonableness (faced with a complete wage freeze, an arbiter is more likely to side with a union asking for a 2% rise than a 10% rise). It’s a nice thought, but given where we are with the RMT we suspect it won’t be that simple. We’re also unsure about setting the parties against each other (if you’ve got to the point of arbitration, surely a do-or-die solution will only encourage combativeness?).

Complete Ban
What it says. Only the police and armed forces are not allowed to strike in the UK, and removing an entire group’s right to strike because it’s got annoying and costly (this latter is kind of the point) would set a dangerous precedent. Who next? Teachers? Health workers? The Tory report notes that 16% of those polled support this option without introducing any other means of redress, saying

Whilst the GLA Conservatives would like to see an alternative to strike action rather than banning it completely, in seeking a change to the status quo we should consider that a significant number of Londoners would go further than our proposal.

We refer you to our earlier comment about majorities.

50% + 1
This is a longstanding call from the GLA Tories, to have strike ballots changed so that 50% + 1 of all those polled need to vote in favour before a strike is called. That’s an odd precedent to set when even no London election has ever broken 50% turnout.

The report ends with a recommendation to government to either outright ban strikes or move to binding pendulum arbitration. We don’t doubt that a lot of Londoners are fed up with tube strikes, but is there a better way to deal with confrontation than more confrontation?

(Oh yeah, and staff on the Piccadilly line are currently being balloted for strike action over working conditions.)

Photo by avail from the Londonist Flickr pool

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  • cjcjc

    It sounds as though you don’t have to use the tube to get to work!

    NB your resident “scientist” needs to think again.
    The margin of error at the 95% confidence level of a poll of 285 people from a (say) 10m population is a tad below +/- 6%.
    No reasonable poll size will get below +/- 3%.

    That is a relatively wide margin but it is not “insignificant”!

  • DrPlokta

    Different terms and conditions for staff on every line, negotiated separately, with different renewal dates for their contracts. They they can strike, but generally speaking only one line will be in dispute and able to strike at any one time, much reducing the impact of strikes.

    • Peter

      What a lovely idea – crush the workers line by line.

  • Andy Brice

    Why is it that tube staff strike, or threaten strikes, so much more than train, bus or tram staff? It does seem like it’s a lot easier for them.

  • Richard Evans-Lacey

    If you don’t like your job then get one that suits you better and resign.

    • rob22t


    • Peter

      …and then you’d be complaining about the unemployed?

  • Matt

    I’ve never understood why they don’t do what they do elsewhere in the world. Keep the service running, but take no fares. This way they’d have the public on their side, we stay productive as a city, and Poor Old Lady (or Child) With Hospital Appointment still makes that appointment after potentially months of waiting. I have no sympathy for the reason of their strikes because of the inconvenience it causes to others.

  • rob22t

    Take away the right to strike and watch their pay fall below a liveable wage for London. You’ll soon notice when no one wants to work as a driver and they start employing sub standard drivers…

    • Peter

      Back in the 60’s a driver earned the same as you’d get on the outskirts of London in a factory packing boxes. At the time London Transport employed people directly from the Caribbean as there was a shortage of people in this country willing to do the job.

      For the last 40 years LUL staff – being properly unionised – have kept their pay in line with or slightly above inflation, that’s why we’re now on £46k not because we’ve been greedy in comparison to others.

      I think compare that increase to what the top 10% of earners have had over the last 5 decades and it’d be a vastly different picture too – more so compared to the majority of other workers.

  • Peter

    A couple of points came to mind having found a bit more detail about how the survey was conducted. Firstly – it was conducted online, but where online? Which sites? I’m presuming not Conservative Home and the Evening Standard website!

    Secondly the poll states that of the ‘ban strike’ responses, there were three possible answers. One was ‘Taylor Law’ and the other ‘Binding Pendulum Arbitration.’ I’d be interested to see if and how these options were explained to the respondent.

    The evening standard article on this was misleading. The second paragraph states ‘Asked whether they thought it was too easy for union members to down tools, 59 per cent agreed and only 14 per cent disagreed’ They omit the 6% (OK a small amount) that strongly disagreed.

    Essentially 41% disagreed with a weighted question “It is currently too easy for London’s tube drivers to strike” with two possible answers which may well have been incomprehensible, asked to a minute number of respondents, from an audience that has not been identified!