Baker Street station. Photo: Baker Street station. Photo:

The government’s eleventh-hour bailout has only deferred the TfL crisis, explains Unjum Mirza

The prospects of London’s Transport system grinding to a halt on account of Transport for London declaring bankruptcy was averted just minutes before midnight on Halloween. TfL is to receive £1.8 billion from the government as part of a second bailout package in which the worst excesses of the government demands – an extension of the congestion charge; cutting concessionary tickets for the over 60s and under 18s etc – were removed as conditions.

That same evening, the Prime Minister appeared in an earlier horror show conceding that the country will have to enter another national lockdown having failed to follow scientific warnings from Sage in September and Independent Sage that unless urgent action was taken, a rapidly increasing R rate of infection would result in thousands of lives lost.

The government had itself laid the foundations for the increase in the R rate with its “eat out, help out” scheme and opening schools and universities. With an R rate above 1, they had already condemned as unworkable their own 3 Tier system at every level.

Now, determined not to learn any lessons, the second lockdown aims to keep those very same schools and universities open; keep the construction and manufacturing industry running. Fundamentally, there remains no effective test, trace, isolate system or support for the majority of working people affected.

The TfL crisis is just another example of Tory incompetence and its cynical manoeuvring. The timing of the bailout holds significance. It lasts a mere 6 months and expires 31 March 2021. Yep, you guessed it – that’s a month before the London Mayor elections.

The bailout demands TfL make further £160 million savings. The unions remain opposed to all cuts but have been assured by the Transport Commissioner that the immediate savings will not be the result of a reduction in jobs, salaries or conditions. Vigilance is the watch-word for the unions just now. It does appear most likely, however, that a direct confrontation with the workforce has also been deferred till spring next year in the run-up to the London Mayor election.

TfL’s funding model has already exposed just how much workers already contribute to London’s transport system via extortionate fares and taxes. The contrast with the private Train Operating Companies (TOCs) who continue to receive government financial aid (and over longer terms) without strings attached could not be starker. In essence, the government aims to further shift the burden of TfL’s “financial sustainability” onto the Capital’s populace.

To date, the government keeps under wraps its own commissioned KPMG report into TfL’s finances. The same is expected of any “expert-led” review of the government’s obsession with driverless trains. Last week Aslef released a leaked TfL document that demonstrated that the whole project is “poor value” and frankly a political fantasy.

However, what is key is just how susceptible the Tory Government is to pressure.

Yes, the Tories hold a majority in parliament. But Johnson is no Thatcher. There is no Ridley plan – just one ridiculous plan after another. Further, the Tories are faction-ridden with the additional new headache for the PM in the form of Nigel Farage potentially exacerbating splits on the Right with the launch of an anti-lockdown party.

So, Sadiq Khan did halt the worst excesses of government demands during the bailout talks. And Andy Burnham has gained mass support in Manchester for standing up to the government. But neither had any intention of mobilising mass support to secure their demands from the central government.

Here-in lies an aspect of the TfL bailout that the press all missed. Aslef’s 95.2% strike mandate hovered above both sides of the bailout negotiations. Neither side wished to see a workforce with a proven record of industrial might so openly and so immediately enter the fray as an independent player.

This is effectively what Deputy Mayor, Valerie Shawcross meant when in response to Tory calls for attacks on our pensions she tweeted:

“The TfL scheme is anyway not under TfL control. National legislation would be needed to change it without Trustee consent. And then the industrial backlash that would ensue would grind the London economy to a halt” (emphasis added)

In part at least, this explains why the government has decided to avert a direct confrontation with the workforce at this time. It appears to have decided to avoid opening a ‘second front’ and defer the fight with the tube unions until spring next year. Preparation is the name of the game.

What we so urgently need now is not Maginot trade unionism but to mobilise trade unionists in the fight against a weak and incompetent, corrupt but deadly government.

In so doing, we also unleash the forces necessary to address Kier Starmer’s disgraceful suspension of Jeremy Corbyn and witch-hunt of the Left.

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Unjum Mirza

Unjum Mirza is a driver on the London Underground. He is on the Editorial Board of Tunnel Vision, the rank and file bulletin, and is an Aslef union branch chair.