Doctors, Tube Drivers, and why we’re all just screwing ourselves

Assuming you live in London (and even probably if you haven’t) you’d have had to make a real effort not to know that there was a tube strike that started last night, scheduled to finish up tonight.  Like many Londoners, it’s not exactly an unfamiliar scenario to me.  For some reason though, the reactions to this one really got me thinking about things.

Most people that mentioned it either moaned about how difficult it was to get to work today, or gloated about how fortunate they were to be working from home/a beer garden/the park on a nice sunny day like today.

On the other hand, there were quite a few people on my Facebook and Twitter timelines who were either criticising or supporting those on strike, and (myself included) sharing various news articles, think pieces, and infographic style posts to support their side.

There were plenty of posts I saw on both twitter and Facebook broadly in favour of the strike, and the reasons behind it.  In fact, there was a blog I particularly enjoyed, (which you’re probably better off reading than this) by the comedian Nathaniel Tapley on why all strikes are good.  I’ve linked to it at the bottom of the post, and once you’ve read mine, I’d strongly recommend giving it a go.  The Huffington Post and The Independent also both ran articles supporting a tube strike.

On the other side, there was some pretty strong anti-strike feeling.  The Metro linked to the Amateur Transplants “London Underground” song (which I have to admit finding pretty funny still, 10 years after I first heard it).  The Telegraph (shockingly enough) was also not a big fan of the strike, and weighed in with this article:

Which seemed to be a pretty big recurring theme: Why are tube drivers striking when they earn so much more than lots of other workers who do really important jobs?

But the really common one I saw, that gave the name to this post and for me sums up all of the negative attitudes towards this strike, is this image. I don’t know the original source of the image itself, although impressively for something that went as big as it did on social media, it credits its own sources, so I doubt I’m hurting anyone’s IP by showing it again here:

Tube Drivers vs Doctors

Now, at first glance, this is pretty damning!

On the one hand, I know Tube Drivers are responsible for the safety of lots of people on a daily basis. It’s only two days ago that much of the media (including many of those criticising them today) were praising them for their heroism in the aftermath of the 7/7 bombings.

On the other hand: DOCTORS! Those people who are responsible for saving people’s lives on a daily basis.  People who, if you ask anyone what job you need to be really intelligent to be able to do, you’d expect lots of people would pick as their top choice.  If you’re going to make a joke about someone being clever, they’re either a rocket scientist, or a brain surgeon, clearly these are people we should be valuing higher than someone who drives something that doesn’t even need steering!

Or at least, that’s what we’re meant to think when we look at this.  How can anyone not agree that Tube Drivers are overpaid and shouldn’t even think about striking when they earn more than doctors?  Well I don’t agree with that…

There are three reasons I’m 100% behind today’s strike:

The first is that I’ll always support the right of someone to go on strike (yes, I know, such a bleeding heart leftie, go back to Russia you commie etc).  I know some of you will disagree with me here, and that’s an argument for another time, so let’s look at the others.

Secondly, it’s not just tube drivers who are part of this strike.  It’s all four of the Transport unions involved with the underground.  If the tube goes to 24 hours, there are ticket staff, platform staff, maintenance staff, and probably a whole load of others that are going to see changes in their shift patterns, disruption to their home lives, and general negative effects to their lives.  I very much doubt that all of those staff are earning 50-60K after 5 years (or even that starting salary of 35K, which in London probably goes a lot less far than many realise.)

Thirdly, and most importantly: THERE IS MORE THAN ONE SOLUTION TO SOMEONE BEING PAID MORE THAN SOMEONE ELSE!  It’s interesting that those are the terms by which the whole argument has been shaped.  Not, “Doctors are paid less than tube drivers” but “Tube drivers are paid more than doctors”.  Why that way round? It’s because it frames the discussion in negative terms of how one person should be getting less than another.  I’d like to change that slightly.  I want to make a positive statement rather than a negative.  I don’t think that tube drivers should be paid less than a doctor.  I think that a doctor should be paid more than a tube driver.  “What do I mean by that?” you ask.  In fact the formal logic studying philosophy student looks at that and shouts that they mean the same thing, but what I’m changing is that I don’t want to bring a tube driver’s pay down to below that of a doctor’s.  We all agree that doctors are generally pretty great, so maybe instead of being angry at tube staff (for having a union who’ve stood up for them in the increasingly de-unionised world of the mid 80s and beyond, who’ve managed to keep their pay rising with inflation over that period) we should pay doctors more.

This doesn’t need to be an argument about who deserves to earn less than they do now.  One group of people who do jobs London hasn’t yet been able to do without have managed to show that we need them by demonstrating what happens if they stop.  Doctors aren’t allowed to do that, and given that it tends to be a job you don’t go into without some level of compassion for other people, I imagine most wouldn’t even if they could.  I think it’s about time to reframe the discussion and say “I think it’s a disgrace that doctors are paid less than tube drivers”.  For that matter, I think the police, the fire brigade, and probably plenty of others do pretty tough jobs too, how come they’re not paid a bit more.

Pay and conditions aren’t about a race to the bottom.  The sooner we stop complaining about how someone else has it so good, and start wondering why other’s don’t, is when things might start getting better for someone with it bad and the average going up, instead of the group who have it good being brought down, and the average going down that bit more…

There’s plenty more to go here, but this is meant to be a blog post not a book, so let’s just say that there might be a part 2 yet to come… Who knows, we could actually see a third blog post!

That article in favour of all striking I mentioned earlier is here:

One thought on “Doctors, Tube Drivers, and why we’re all just screwing ourselves

  1. I have argued this point with my following analogy. There are two groups of workers required to carry stuff from A to B through an area of sharp rubble. Group 1 work with bare feet, whilst Group 2 went on strike for suitable foot wear on the advice of their union, and were awarded with sturdy boots. Group 1 were annoyed with Group 2, as they thought that Group 2 should have to work in bare feet like they did! Sad logic. But sadly, this seems the general thinking of the British public!


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