Paul T Horgan: Working from home would derail the bully boys of the transport unions

So there's a rail strike. The unions object to more trains being operated by a single person.

Passengers depend on the rail service for their livelihoods. Rising property prices in town centres mean affordable housing may be a long way from the workplace. A reliable connecting rail service is vital. That is the leverage used by the unions. To them, people are pawns.

Despite stating that the current strike is about passenger safety, the unions have no main interest in the passengers, who just happen to be in the trains their members are employed to operate, as well as paying for them to do so.

There are already trains running safely without guards. The whole argument is a red herring. This dispute is only about jobs.

Unions lose power and leverage when jobs are lost. The management states that guards are no longer needed on trains, thanks to modern technology. The unions disagree. Marx has almost nothing to say about technological progress. So unions, like dinosaurs, are unable to adapt to change. Instead, they lash out. They do not know any better.

The rail unions exist to look after their themselves and their members, but also to bring around a socialist one-party republic.

The first two objects of the RMT union are:

(a) to secure the complete organisation of all workers employed by any board, company or authority in connection with rail, sea and other transport and ancillary undertakings and offshore energy;

(b) to work for the supersession of the capitalist system by a socialistic order of society

The sixth object of ASLEF, after securing overmanning, suppression of dissent, maximum extraction of wages, absolute control of all employee-management interactions, and demarcation control, is public service. The seventh is to “assist in the furtherance of the labour movement generally towards a Socialist society.”

The RMT makes no mention of public service in its rules whatsoever.

It is ironic that the workers in socialised services are the most heavily unionised. Surely the notion of public service would be central to a socialist ideology. Not so. Socialist trade unions wish to extract maximum value from any situation, irrespective of the harm caused.

During the 2012 London Olympics, the RMT secured a bonus just to keep on working as normal. They knew that when the world was watching London, they could extort that little bit more out of TfL.

Striking and other kinds of bullying of the helpless does not rely on much thought. The rail union leaders do not seem the brightest bananas, especially if this interview of Steve Hedley, the assistant general secretary of the RMT, is anything to go by.

Defeating entrenched unions may require closing the rail service down, which the unions know to be impossible, or to remove the monopoly or requirement for mass commuting. These are the kinds of techniques used to defeat the print and mining unions in the 1980s, which led to a collapse of union power in the private sector.

Rupert Murdoch simply closed down his print works when he relocated to new premises, firing all the militant print workers. He was able to produce his papers using about one tenth of the number of people hired to replace them by making use of new technology.

The coal mines were shut down and coal was imported. Power stations were adapted to use fuels other than coal.

Reliable and secure communications and computing technology mean some people do not have physically to travel to a place of work. Once upon a time, offices were where the filing cabinets were, so the paperwork had to be in the same place. Nowadays, the virtual filing cabinet is located in a remote datacentre, to be edited and transmitted using productivity suites on portable computing devices. Meetings may be conducted using videoconferencing, which is now a mature technology. Telecommuting is making actual commuting obsolete. In an era of rising union militancy in response to an ineffectual Labour Party, employers should be asking if their employees' journeys are really necessary.

The development of driverless cars could be used for those people who actually need to go to a workplace. It is possible to imagine a future where a single-seat robot car arrives at a person's house, picks them up, and then joins in a high-speed automated convoy to the place of work. Uber could go driverless. In this future, it might be illegal manually to operate a car. Sorry, petrolheads.

Of course, it could be possible to automate the trains. London Underground has been running automated trains for nearly half a century. Yet for some reason there still appears to be an overpaid human in the front cab, thanks to the RMT, but also because of management cowardice. So rail automation seems to be a dead end.

In the 1970s the government learned that direct confrontation with unions would fail. In the 1980s, the unions were defeated by being bypassed to irrelevance. Now they have retreated to quasi-monopoly socialised services, technology provides the best way to bypass the unions to oblivion.

(Image: Hugh Llewelyn)

Paul T Horgan

  • Under-the-weather

    Too many have experienced computer breakdown, even sat-nav breakdown to rely entirely on driverless vehicles. It’s one of those technologies which will find a niche but is unlikely to replace the drivers responsible for their own safety, just my opinion.
    Increasing technology shouldn’t be about making more people unemployed, it should be about making them more productive, the same issue as introducing robots. I read about robots potentially replacing surgeons, because a particular computer can diagnose based on random symptoms, but seriously who would rely on a single machine and its program to complete surgery (while confronting the unexpected and emergency), and who would feel comfortable with replacing a GP with a machine?
    However now there’s no reason at all why people travelling to the same place of work from similar locations shouldn’t share car journeys, and I agree employers should be considering work from home wherever possible.

    • Nockthesheeple

      If a machine can now do your job you have to find another job. Not my problem. Get over it snowflake.

  • I think that the amount of home work will increase, but also that companies will start moving out of London as staff become less willing to commute..
    My daughter gave up her job in London last year when the fares went up. She did the maths and realised that in spite of the lower salary offered by an employer within 15 minutes drive of home, she was not significantly worse off than before. More to the point, she had more time at home to look after her garden which was far preferable to being crushed on a commuter train.

    • Craig Martin

      Sounds like someone brought her up well!

      • Thanks, but I suspect she learnt from the fact that I did something similar, getting out of my employers London HQ as soon as a post was available elsewhere. OK, it reduced my promotion prospects, but that possibility was not worth all the stress and worries involved.

  • Nockthesheeple

    With modern tech there’s no reason why the train drivers shouldn’t work from home. They could have joysticks and screens in their drawing room just like in the cab. Connected by 5G. There would still be a vigilance control so they’s couldn’t just pop out to make a cup of tea.

  • Colkitto03

    Good post Paul.
    Technology will continue to take more jobs.Nearly all Macdonalds restaurants now expect you to place your order yourself for example.
    Britian’s 700,000 call centre workers will see a big decline over the next few years as customers are moved over also to web self service and IVR.
    The jobs that are typically first victims to technology are high volume and low complexity.

    All the more reason to stop unskilled foreigners entering the country.

  • It’s time to automate trains – which would enhance safety, increase reliability and reduce costs.

    Sadly the state of broadband infrastructure in much of home counties is inadequate to enable working from home, which is by no means the panacea it is considered – particularly for the City.

  • Craig Martin

    Trade Unions: Join us now. Destroying Jobs and Helping Employees out of work since…..

  • Demon Teddy Bear

    But many jobs are only bearable by working as part of a team, mutual support, banter, shared loathing of HR dept, and so on. People who sit at home alone are much more vulnerable to stress illnesses. In IT in particular it is best NOT to work in your home, and to leave your work behind when you leave the office.

    • I suspect the future might be that the large companies establish a number of smaller offices away from London which are interconnected using modern communication techniques. Workers would still be working as a larger group, but no longer have the stress and cost of travelling to London resulting in them being more productive.

      • Demon Teddy Bear

        The reason that won’t happen is politics. The directors want to be in London. If they’re out in the sticks somewhere, rather than on hand, they’ll be sidelined, then fired. Each director’s direct staff want to be near the great man, for just the same reason; out of sight means career death. And so on, right down the chain. Only the deadbeats go to the provinces. Which … is infuriating!!

        • The new aim will be to on your director’s e-mail/video link rather than that of his secretary.