So I’m going on strike on Boxing Day. Well I’m not, actually. I’d booked annual leave on the grounds that it’s going to be impossible for me to get to work. Network Rail have closed many of their lines on the 26th December so there’s no way for me to get to work (ironically, I don’t drive cars). But I most certainly voted to strike.
Why, you might ask, is it in any way unusual for London Underground staff to strike? Well this is an ASLEF strike. It’s something we rarely do, preferring to negotiate mutually acceptable ways of working rather than chucking our toys out of the pram all the time. We leave that to the firebrands. To my mind striking should be an action of last resort rather than first. I even (God help me) agree with Boris that if a union intends to strike it should be on the basis that the majority of affected members have chosen that course. And for me this is the first time I’ve been balloted regarding possible strike action in four and a half years. It’s really not something we do and I think LU have screwed up a little in their approach to negotiations.
The usual way of negotiating is that the unions and managers will have discussions. If those fail then ACAS get involved to act as mediators. If that fails then it goes to discussion with the directors of the company. For some reason LU started at the top and told us what was happening. We objected and since they’d skipped all the other stages there wasn’t really any room to negotiate further. So we asked for a pony.
The dispute is about how the services on Boxing Day are going to be run. We’ve always had an agreement that everyone (regardless of religious affiliation) will take Christmas Day as annual leave. And on Boxing Day we’d run a special service with fewer trains so that as many people as is practical can have the day off with their families. I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this before but drivers do not get to choose when to take leave. It’s allocated along with our shifts. But we do have three days which we may take when we want so long as we give a month’s notice and it won’t impact the service. Usually I and many others save this for the Christmas and New Year period. This year because the 25th is on a Saturday the official public holidays are on the 27th and 28th. As we work public holidays anyway this is pretty meaningless to us. What’s at issue is that somehow LU have decided that because the outside world will be on holiday officially on the Monday and Tuesday then that translates to us running a normal service on the Sunday.
The fairly obvious problem with running a normal service is that hardly anybody gets to spend time with their families on the days that are actually important. I’m not religious but I’m still a big fan of Christmas. I very rarely get to see my folks as they live too far away and are too infirm to travel and this is the only time I can see the rest of my family. For the first time since I started working with LU I’ve been allocated leave at Christmas. You have no idea how nice it was to be able to let my mum know that I’d definitely be around for Christmas this year. Usually I don’t know until late November and we just have to hope that I’ve been allocated a day off or a late start on Boxing day so that I can travel to see them. It’s been really nice to be able to book travel arrangements too. Usually I have to wait until the last minute and pay huge amounts. But this year I got lucky and have leave up until the 25th. And then can’t get back to work so have been allowed to take the 26th and 27th as leave too. But with a normal service in operation very few other drivers will be allowed to do that.
What was that about a pony? Well we asked for triple time and a day off in lieu in exchange for working Boxing Day as a normal day. Everytime I hear the demand read out on the news I mentally insert “and a pony. And glittery shoes. And Nigella Lawson”. Because we don’t actually want extra money and time off. I don’t know why LU would think that we would. It does make me laugh when I see LU throwing out the phrase “holding Londoners to ransom” in the same way they do when the RMT goes on strike. We really, really don’t want the money or the glittery shoes or even (though I’m tempted) the pony. We made a ridiculous demand so that it could be refused. Then we could sit down like sensible people and work out the best way to compromise. For some reason our senior managers didn’t want to negotiate and tried to lay down the law as they see it. I’m not sure why. Perhaps we agree with them so often that they have forgotten ASLEF have teeth.
So there looks to be no or limited services on Boxing Day. I generally find that RMT members are much more likely to support a strike they haven’t voted on so I suspect they won’t turn up either. And all because of a refusal to negotiate. I do hope that LU will reconsider this. The vast majority of staff accept that we don’t really get what we want over the important holidays and are happy if we get allocated one extra day to spend with our families. There is an unfairly-fair system in place which means that some people lose out each year but as we each have the same chance of our annual leave request being accepted every year we abide by it. That’s just the way things are and we’ll grumble but get on with it. Suddenly changing things to accomodate public holidays that we don’t get anyway is not right. They can’t just let the world have Christmas but tell us to have it when it’s more convenient. If LU start negotiating sensibly then we’d be perfectly OK with having some people on days off, some people unhappily working safe in the knowledge that they might get lucky next year and a special service in operation. I don’t really understand why they are being so stubborn, especially for a day when not many people travel anyway. The whole dispute seems pointlessly overblown and I hope that as Christmas draws closer cooler heads will take charge and work this one out. This is a needless strike but one which I support. Compromise means that everybody yields.