Twenty-eight London Tory MPs this morning called on Ken Livingstone to condemn the Tube strikes by Aslef and hand back the £5000 donation he took from the union, first revealed on this blog. Ken has refused both demands.
Today, another link between Ken and Aslef: a senior official of the union, Simon Weller, will appear at Ken’s “Progressive London” conference next month, an event dedicated in Ken’s words to “building the widest possible alliance” against the Tories. The conference is co-sponsored by Aslef and in 2009, I can reveal, the union donated £2,500 to “Progressive London.” A similar amount is likely to have been donated in 2010 and 2011.
Gerry Doherty, the general secretary of the TSSA, will also appear at the conference. The TSSA is separately striking on the Tube and has provided Ken with his campaign office.
Ken also received £10,000 from Aslef for his 2008 mayoral campaign, and £20,000 from the union for his 2004 campaign. In 2008, he also received £100,000 from another Tube union, Unite, which represents engineering and electrical staff and voted for industrial action in 2009. Unite’s London regional secretary, Steve Hart, will also speak at next month’s conference.
It is not immediately clear to me what is “progressive” about Aslef. These strikes are a nothing more than an attack by prosperous middle-class train drivers on poor, working-class Londoners, who are forced through their fares to subsidise the Aslef Lifestyle.
Aslef members on the Tube enjoy salaries of nearly £45,000 a year, a 35-hour-week, almost seven weeks’ annual holiday, a final-salary pension, free travel for themselves and anyone else they care to nominate, easy if boring work, and total job security. Now though this is an employment package not shared by perhaps 90 per cent of the London workforce, I don’t necessarily begrudge it to the Tube drivers. What I do say is that it can scarcely be described as legitimate grounds for grievance.
Yet now the oppressed toilers of Aslef are striking for triple time and further days off in lieu for working Bank Holidays – even though their extended holiday entitlement was given them precisely in order to compensate for this. Though Aslef is now back-pedalling on its threat to strike on the day of the Royal Wedding, there is no doubt that the threat was explicitly made.
Team Livingstone this afternoon desperately claimed that the evil Tories were bashing the Tube unions to distract attention from the bankers. In fact, the two groups are the same.
Just like the bankers, the Tube drivers have become people locked into a private value system, where the most outrageous behaviour seems perfectly reasonable. In some ways, the drivers are worse. Unlike the bankers, they are paid directly by the rest of us and their actions have an immediate impact on our lives.
Not only has Ken refused to condemn Aslef, he has actually called on Boris Johnson to negotiate with the union – as if there were anything whatever to negotiate about.
This is the core reason why Ken is unfit to be mayor: he will work for some of the capital’s most reactionary special interests, rather than in the interest of London as a whole.