Friday, 7 February 2014

Boris Johnson's Tube strike hypocrisy

There is something about the Tories that makes them absolutely incapable of recognising the hopelessness and hypocrisy of their own stupid ideas. The classic example of this is the proposal that they keep making that trade unions should have to manage a minimum turnout of 50% in order to take strike action. I've already slammed the vacuous Tory non-entity Priti Patel for making this stupid suggestion and now the Mayor of London Boris Johnson has popped up to make exactly the same argument. Here's exactly what he said in his Daily Telegraph column on the subject of the London Underground strikes:
"We need a ballot threshold – so that at least 50 per cent of the relevant workforce has to take the trouble to vote, or else the ballot is void. That is surely the least we can ask. It is time for the Government to legislate." [source]
The most glaringly obvious criticism of this stance is that Boris Johnson was elected as Mayor of London in a ballot with a 38% turnout. If this 50% rule is applied to the workers (plebs) then surely it must be applied to the political classes too? If they can't convince at least half of us to come out and vote for them, they should surely have no mandate to govern.

A different analysis of the statistics provides even more compelling evidence that Boris Johnson should keep his mouth shut. If we look at the percentage of union members that didn't vote for strike action on the London Underground (those that voted against and those that didn't vote) we get a figure of 70%. When we look at the percentage of Londoners that didn't vote for Boris Johnson in the 2012 Mayoral election (those that voted against Boris and those that didn't vote) we get a figure of 87%.

Aside from the grotesque hypocrisy of a man that was elected on a turnout of 38% saying that others must ensure a turnout of at least 50% for legitimacy, there are plenty of other criticisms of this proposal to further undermine workers' rights.

One of the most obvious criticisms is of the Tory claims that the Underground workers are "holding London to ransom". There is another way to look at this issue. If Boris Johnson hadn't broken his pre-election manifesto pledge to ensure that "there is always a manned ticket office in every station" then London Underground staff wouldn't be striking over the issue. It is not the unions that are holding London to ransom, it is Boris Johnson and TfL doing it with their hugely unpopular austerity agenda.

Another demonstration of Boris Johnson's low cunning is his constant references to Bob Crow's salary of £145,000 per year. This may seem like an awful lot, but it is absolutely dwarfed by the salary and bonuses of Boris Johnson's mate Peter Hendy, the TfL commissioner, which amounted to £652,452 last year. The total annual cost of Transport for London staff earning over £100,000 per year was an eye-watering £46 million last year. Maybe they should have looked at imposing a bit of austerity on their own salaries before rolling out their plan to sack hundreds of low paid workers and leave London's tube stations bereft of staff.

Perhaps the most compelling argument against Boris Johnson's plan to further undermine workers' rights is the fact that according to a 2008 OECD report, the United Kingdom had the joint second worst worker protection in the G20 (see graph). With the introduction of reams of blatantly anti-worker legislation by the coalition government and the exponential rise of zero hours contracts and chronic underemployment, this situation has only become worse since then. The United Kingdom is second only to the United States for worker protection amongst the OECD nations, and is clearly already leading the workers' rights "race to the bottom" in Western Europe.

Tories like Boris Johnson will tell you that workers' rights need to be eroded away even more to create "flexibility" and "prosperity", but the real reason that Tories want to further undermine workers' rights is that they are on the side of corporations, the super wealthy and big businesses (look for yourself at where their funding comes from). The Tories and their rogues gallery of wealthy backers know that they can maximise short-term profits by attacking workers' rights and undermining their pay and working conditions.

It hardly seems like a coincidence that the United Kingdom has some of the harshest anti-trade union laws and weakest workers' rights in Europe and the average cost of British workers is lower than the EU average, and lags far behind countries like Germany, France, the low countries and Scandinavia.

Another area in which the UK lags far behind Germany, France, the low countries and Scandinavia is in productivity. It is hardly surprising that an economy with weaker worker protection, harsher anti-trade union laws and lower pay also lags behind in terms of productivity. If workers feel protected, secure in their jobs, valued and well paid, they are inevitably inclined to work a bit harder. If they feel exploited, insecure in their jobs, undervalued and underpaid they are obviously going to be less inclined to work that little bit harder. As the old saying goes "if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys".

Boris Johnson and the Tories don't give a damn about any of this evidence though, they are still on an ideological mission from the 1980s to destroy the trade unions. They are so fixated with recreating Margaret Thatcher's socially divisive battles with the trade unions that they can't see that the UK has already been left behind by countries with more progressive and co-operative attitudes about the relationship between capital and labour than the all-or-nothing class warfare nonsense of the 1980s that the Tory party is still so obviously fixated with.
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Margaret Thatcher is dead                   
A rogues gallery of dodgy Tory party donors
David Cameron's austerity to infinity speech
The JP Morgan vision for Europe
The Tory contempt for the value of labour
The warped Tory definition of rights
Austerity and economic illiteracy