Friday, March 12, 2010

Does the Economic Crisis Mean that Employers "Have To" Cut Jobs?

I just wrote this for my blog on the RMT London Calling website, and since Stroppyblog regularly(ish) discusses matters concerning workers and the economic crisis, I thought I would share it with Stroppyreaders too.

Both London Underground and Tube Lines - and, no doubt, many other companies - will tell us that they "have to" cut jobs because of the economic crisis. But a look at London Underground's history shows that this is not just untrue - it is the opposite of the truth.

London Underground began in 1863, when private companies starting opening lines. By the 1920s, the Underground had expanded into a web of lines beneath London, run by several different private companies.

There was a recession during the 1920s, and the government gave a public subsidy to the private owners, explicitly both to improve the Tube and to create jobs at a time of high unemployment.

London Underground came into public ownership in 1933, under the new London Transport Passenger Board (LPTB).

The economy was again in recession, but public ownership led to investment, improvements and extensions on a large scale, with the added bonus of again creating jobs during another period of high unemployment. With the LPTB's New Works Programme announced in 1934, the Underground saw extensions to the Central, Northern, Piccadilly and Bakerloo Lines, electrification of the Metropolitan line north of Rickmansworth, and new tunnels, stations and escalators. Despite improvements slowing during the war, by 1947 the average speed of the train service had increased by 18% since 1933.

Cutting jobs during recession simply increases unemployment and worsens public services: it does not help economic recovery, and certainly does not help workers or service users. Instead, the government should give extra funding to London Underground to improve its services, increase its staffing levels, bring forward its upgrades, make its stations more accessible, and build extensions and new lines. And it should bring the engineering functions back into an integrated, publicly owned London Underground, without compensating the private owners who have sucked so much out of the system.

London Underground and Tube Lines may be using the recession as a pretext for attacking jobs and conditions - but they are actually doing the opposite of what needs to be done. The government can pay people benefits to be out of work; or it can pay them wages to carry out socially-useful work. It's obvious which is better, isn't it?!

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