I heard a story once about a teacher who was left off the timetable. He still drew a salary and still turned up for work but didn’t actually have any classes to teach. The Deputy Head who was supposed to allot him classes simply forgot about him. It was back in the 80s when Ofsted was but a distant dream, he was a year off retirement and wasn’t terribly eager to face another round of ritual humiliation by a new bunch of teenage delinquents. He knew he had to keep the staff in his department onside so he filled the gaps they needed him to, it was never a problem to nip out for a dentist’s appointment or even 20 Rothmans, but he never actually did the job he was paid to do. While he was worth his weight in gold to his colleagues he was a complete waste of money for the tax payer, completely and utterly unnecessary. Just like London Underground drivers.
Every time our capital is brought to a standstill it is worth remembering that those responsible are entirely superfluous, the tube would run just fine without them. In fact it would be better, safer and more reliable. On the newer trains the only responsibility the driver has is deciding when to close the doors – a job the lifts in M&S seem to manage perfectly well on their own. There is an understandable reluctance to step onto an automated train but think of a major train disaster and chances are it was caused by human error. Computers never turn up late or tired or drunk. The Docklands Light Railway has been driverless since the 80s and none of us thinks twice before boarding the airport transit at Heathrow, Gatwick or Stansted.
No matter how much the unions kick and scream, and they sure will, an automated tube is inevitable. The recent redundancies of ticketing staff, and the obligatory industrial action in response, was a dress rehearsal for the big showdown that is sure to come in the next few years. Why should we continue to support a needless workforce? Times change; just ask milkmen, chimney sweeps or gas lamp lighters.
The union’s rearguard remonstrations are as predictable as they are doomed. I’m sure they know they have a finite existence and they’ve reasoned that they will protest as loudly as they can at every contract renewal, every condition change and every new regulation, in order to get the maximum benefit for their members in the brief time they still have. What they haven’t realised is that had they taken the other point of view, kept their heads down and quietly got on with their very well paid jobs without complaint, the public’s natural mistrust of driverless trains could have kept them in work for another generation. Instead they have bought a one-way ticket to oblivion, convincing even the most skeptical commuters of the benefits of an automated system.
‘Inbuilt Obsolescence’ is a common complaint of the anti-capitalist brigade but the tube drivers seem to have avoided theirs. This Luddite stance is an affront to human development and growth. Every one of these tube drivers could contribute something to society. They could be carpenters, builders, entrepreneurs, teachers but instead they simply fill an empty space with their atoms, a blob of matter no different to a mound of earth. Worse still their salaries could fund safety improvements that had hitherto seemed prohibitively expensive.
The unions need to learn from this. They need to anticipate the ebb and flow of the industries they are in and if they fail to see the road ahead they are of no use whatsoever to their members. Their seeming intention to push the Tube Drivers off the cliff of uselessness betrays the very people they exist to represent. The unions have a place in politics, but as participants not powerbrokers, and in an era of extended Labour opposition the unions need to control the urge to protest too loudly. The miners learnt this lesson the hard way and unless ASLEF, the RMT and the TSSA do likewise all train drivers could find themselves going the way of the dodo.
The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty