OccupyLondon poster made me less supportive of the tube strike

TubeIt’s one thing for the RMT union to ask people to be reasonable and try to understand why they need to strike, in which case they should really be cogently outlining their demands and explaining why they have had to resort to strike action.

I agree with the theoretical principle of striking – it’s a necessary evil to prevent Government from steamrolling over the rights of the workers. But striking is supposed to be the nuclear arsenal of the moral high-ground, not touted about at first opportunity like a … well, a Cold War nuclear arsenal.

This sign, however, is the worst kind of counterproductively vapid, populist politicking imaginable and RMT should be ashamed of stooping so low.

Let’s deal with the “claims” of this poster sequentially, shall we?

  1. Ticket machines take cash. There’s little difference, then, between manned service booths and ticket machines, except that one has higher running costs (whilst admittedly providing a job) and the other is faster, more convenient and doesn’t inflict its bad mood and haughty rudeness at you when you’re already late, stressed and feeling shitty.*
  2. Yes, the machines sometimes go out of service. In all the circumstances I’ve experienced this, no member of the underground team has been on-hand to fix them or man the ticket booth. Furthermore, doing away with ticket booths won’t do away with maintenance engineers.
  3. There are already many rail stations on the Oyster network which have ticket machines that can top up your card, but where staff members can’t update your Oyster card. When the machine breaks, they shrug. So no change there, either.
  4. TFL have regularly deducted too much money from my bank card, and I have yet to see any refund or genuine attempt to rectify this mistake from TFL staff. The existence of on-hand staff had no effect whatsoever, save to piss me off – because when I informed them about it they told me to phone the hotline. The hotline told me to email. The email response sent me an itemised list of my Oyster usage, with overcharging clear as day (totalling £26 in one month), but conveniently had no record of this when I emailed them back the same PDF a day later and asked for a refund. I fail to see in what way ticket booth operators have any influence over the Oyster network’s failings and abysmal customer service.
  5. Paragraph two is a farce. There are already countless delays to the tube service. Neither drivers nor in-station staff have anything to do with resolving this. At most, a driver will apologise for the delay when you’re stuck inside a tunnel. I’m fairly sure a pre-recorded voice could do that.
  6. Equally, staff cannot and do not prevent the “accidents, emergencies [and] incidents” that they so glibly ask future users to avoid. Regarding evacuations: this is why we have public address systems, evacuation notices and other signs – and emergency services, which will still be on standby in the event of some non-specific cataclysm; that’s what they’re there for. If the absence of TFL staff would mean fewer safety measures than anywhere else, the Health & Safety Executive would have a field day. This is scaremongering pure and simple.
  7. Trains drive themselves just fine on the DLR. Google can make cars navigate 435,000 miles of two-dimensional obstacles without incident; I’m fairly sure the technology exists to allow a train to move on a one-dimensional track and make fewer mistakes than a human.
  8. Disabled? I have yet to see an RMT member cure the sick and lame.
  9. Poor? I have definitely yet to see an RMT member alleviating someone of their poverty. First, at a basic £44,000 salary (plus perks), tube drivers earn a two-thirds greater salary than the average Londoner. Furthermore, I see a fundamental contradiction between using the stress of the job and the unsociable hours as a reason to justify the high salary, whilst simultaneously defending such jobs as absolutely necessary, in the face of overwhelming technological evidence to the contrary. After all, a tube driver’s basic is twice that of a newly-qualified airline pilot, which has much higher training costs and similar work stresses, and the only working driverless plane ever seen was in the spoof film Airplane!.
  10. New to London? Bless. Join the throngs of Londoners and others travelling to other metropolises and having to discern foreign transportation systems on their own. But seriously, buy a map. Or download a FREE app to your phone. Or look at one of the many maps on all tube stations. Or ask ANYONE.
  11. Young or old? I have yet to see an RMT member accelerate someone’s growth, or provide an elixir of youth.
  12. Harassed? Naturally, the only people in London who would step in to help someone being assaulted or harassed are members of the Underground Team, single-handedly defending London’s streets from incivility. Please.
  13. Lucky number 13, this is the only one I may be willing to concede would be possibly made worse by not having so many staff on hand. But it’s sad to say, property and children get lost and/or taken in London all the time.
  14. Please provide assistance.*
  15. This poster contains no advice. This is (in this penultimate paragraph, sequentially) glib and sarcastic commentary, a statement of impotence, and a callous disregard for others’ feelings. So no change there, then.*

I say again – I’m not against striking in general. Teachers’ unions? Yes. Firefighters? Probably. But the RMT? Instead of this populist diatribe, OccupyLondon and RMT should be publicising their history of negotiations with Boris if they want to garner public support. Then we’ll see who’s being unreasonable. But, admittedly, even before this poster they had a long road ahead before they’d convince me of their need to exist.

Yes, these changes will come at a loss of thousands of jobs. Yes, that’s unfortunate. But that in itself is not (or should not be) enough of a reason to strike on this side of the Channel. The money saved will go onto urgent modernisation of the tube system (parts of which are a century old) and, in the long run, free up capital for jobs elsewhere – with a faster way of reaching them.

* I will make one small edit: there was once a very nice person who works for TFL and who helped me once at Farringdon station. He stood at the intersection between underground and rail entrances, knew every connection from that station imaginable. Good for him.

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Boles Bowls Wide

The housing strategy proposed by Nick Boles, DCLG’s new planning minister, will irresponsibly destroy precious greenfield sites, whilst countless unused land remains in need of regeneration in the cities – precisely where it is needed most.

Nick has completely missed the mark. Confident in his self-assured quest to have single-handedly “solved the housing problem”, he has stridden into the road without looking both ways again and forgotten to consider anyone who may have an objection to him building on unspoiled land. As with its forest selloff U-turn debacle, the Coalition is once again showing its hand: Liberal Democrats failing to stand up for any of their principles as Conservatives belie their utter disregard for preserving the environment. Yes, we sorely need to create more – particularly affordable – housing, but why irrevocably tarnish natural beauty when we have brownfield sites littering the country and hundreds of thousands of homes lie vacant?

Instead, shouldn’t the government be working towards funding a large-scale housing project to buy up dilapidated urban areas and inner-city brownfield sites, and build twenty-first century urban hubs akin to Stratford’s Olympic Village? These, not cookie-cutter settlements on a newly thrown-up ring road, would be the “more beautiful” built environments Boles seems to champion. These would rejuvenate city centres whilst creating more housing where it is actually needed.

Instead of raising capital by pawning off our natural resources to our children’s irreparable disadvantage, we should increase taxes on luxury goods and impose a stricter stamp duty on a band of houses higher than that which currently exists. The punitive proposed ‘mansion tax’ should be scrapped. All it serves to do is overly affect the metropolitan middle classes, who are evidently to be punished for merely possessing the fiscal rectitude necessary to save for a mortgage in an urban environment with an elevated cost of living. Finances should instead be raised from taxing those who can afford to buy a premium car for their enjoyment as opposed so a household in suburban London that has two cars because both parents have to work.

Fascinating new developments in green technology and energy efficiency have arisen since a government last had such an undertaking, and we must now make the best of them. New building techniques now permit us to create aesthetically pleasing domiciles for our denizens, and finally we may now heed the sage advice of visionaries like Hundertwasser and Gaudi, a century ahead of their time in terms of using light and space to their fullest advantage. Small-scale community development works have done wonders in our cities, and forward-thinking architectural styles have been shown to pay dividends in places like Chicago’s riverbank, where successive schools have adapted new methods to work in harmony with existing structures.

When development is more than piecemeal, there is a real opportunity to invest in the necessary infrastructure to create entire community centres that have long-lasting benefits. Better transport links, new shopping areas, and properly equipped schools and hospitals will create family-friendly environments, increase worker capacity and productivity in commercial centres, work towards solving the housing shortage (and the percentage of UK citizens still below the poverty line), as we once again become a beacon for foreign investment as a fiscally strong, developed state.