I still think Boris’s most ludicrous manifesto policy was the Routemaster one, but a close runner up was the idea that he could negotiate a no strike agreement with the Tube unions to save us all from the bother of uppity Marxists like the RMT‘s Bob Crow ruining our day in their nasty lower class boiler suits, or whatever.  Back a year, and Boris was having it large at the expense of the RMT:

The Henley MP, who was ahead in the latest opinion poll, says he wants to negotiate a no-strike agreement with the union if he wins on May 1, claiming it has had its “thumb around the windpipe of London commuters” for years.

Well, come July Bob Crow hadn’t heard from Boris, but Boris has surely heard from Bob Crow now, along with everyone else.  One of the things I took away from the Pro London conference (which, if anything, was a bit over-represented by union leaders, but then again it was held in Congress House) was that there was profound disquiet across the unions, and the advent of Boris has, if anything, only hardened attitudes.  Unions know what it means when Conservatives talk about ‘reducing costs’ and ‘value for money’, and they don’t like it, particularly during a recession.  Then we had the thinking-aloud suggestion that PCSOs should crew the New Routemaster, which I understand was also apparently floated without talking to the unions.  Non-union crew on buses?  Recipe for strike action, I suspect.  Finally, the ham-fisted ‘snow day’ story which had the worst-of-all-worlds effect of showing that Boris is fixated on cutting costs but will back down under pressure.  All this looks headed for a showdown to me.

As a result of all this, it’s long been my opinion that Boris is going to face transport worker’s strike action sooner or later.  He may of course welcome this – he will draw a line through his idol Maggie and think that standing up to some workshy Communists might be good for his image.  After all, David Cameron isn’t going to be able to lead a squad of managers past a picket line for the adoring press cameras any time soon,  is he?  Unfortunately, I suspect the public’s appetite for old-style Thatcherism is fairly low just at the moment – for instance I’ve heard normally Boris-supporting people in recent days suggest that the Mayor’s banker chums should be in jail, taxed heavily, or both.  There’s also the fact that Boris isn’t Thatcher and he can on current form be relied upon to muck it up at some point – a year of repeated strike action across the system would certainly damage him given the no strike promises, particularly with the capital struggling economically.  The Moscow Evening Standard may not give him the traditional uncritical cheerleading, either.

Given all this, it’s extremely worrying that the flames appear to be breaking out on the London Overground, which is the subject of heavy investment and much TLC from TfL including cleaning stations, putting more staff on, new trains etc.  If they can’t keep the workers happy there, what on earth is going on?  LO is run by a concern called LOROL, a joint venture between Hong Kong’s MTR and Deutsche Bahn of Germany.  However, as a concession rather than a franchise, TfL Rail have a big input into it, so it’s firmly on Boris’s plate despite TfL’s denials.  He’s quite willing to put out press releases about LO putting a positive spin on things, so it’s only fair to get the responsibility that goes along with that, don’t you think?

So what’s the beef at LO?  Mr. Crow always prefers to light a match in a fireworks factory rather than curse the darkness:

“Our members’ problems at London Overground have multiplied in recent months to the point that we have a complete breakdown in industrial relations, and there is no option left but to ballot for strike action,” said RMT general secretary Bob Crow.

There’s an official press release from the RMT too:

The dispute involves a complex of issues, including failure to negotiate seriously on restructuring proposals, failure to improve facilities and progress other welfare issues, and failure to confirm verbal assurances that new trains would be staffed by guards with full operational safety role and control of doors.

There’s something amusingly ironic about Boris being in industrial relation trouble for adding extra crew to buses, while his train set faces industrial relations trouble for stalling over keeping the existing staff on trains.  TfL saving a few quid by going DOO (Driver Only Operation) across London Overground is not something I’ve heard before, and hardly sits happily alongside Boris’s preoccupation with authority figures and curbing anti-social behaviour on the transport network.  According to ASLEF, DOO is used on Euston-Watford and on empty coaching stock workings, but not on GOBLIN, NLL or WLL services.  The East London Line remains a question mark, but the Class 378 wikipedia entry suggests the trains will be equipped with the external CCTV monitoring equipment required.  Case not proven, then, but much as Boris may wish to wash his hands of this and blame LOROL, he can’t – fundamentally if TfL is banking on LO going DOO he’ll have either a showdown with the RMT or another hole in his budget.  From the Railway Scene forum a couple of years back, a guard speaks.

Can confirm that the new trains will be totally open with no corridor connections, however the tetchy subject of DOO has not yet been sorted out, despite my asking the MD whether this will go ahead, he could not really answer this and says that is a decision made by TfL and not Laing/MTR. So for the duration i will still have a job however not sure what i will have in the long run.

Boris has other problems at London Overground – the late delivery of Class 378 trains is looking bad for the East London Line extension, which may embarrasingly be ready early but with no trains to run on it.  A steady hand is needed here, I suspect.

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