Workers' Liberty #59


Livingstone and the London Mayor election

What would the election of Ken Livingstone as London mayor mean to workers on the underground?

By K L Callan

The view from the Underground

To read newspapers or watch the TV on the London's Mayoral election, you would get the impression that Ken Livingstone was the knight in shining armour riding to the rescue of beleaguered tubeworkers. Ah, if only...

However, the truth is a bit more complicated than that.

To give credit where it is due, Ken is correct in identifying the privatisation of the Tube as the key issue in the election to be held next May, and in the selection of Labour's candidate for the election, to be done between now and February. But it is hardly the only issue - and of course there is opposition and opposition.

Jeffrey Archer, between his other "activities", said that Labour's "public-private partnership" scheme was nonsense and he would tear up the contracts once elected. What has Ken Livingstone's position been?

Take his speech at a rally for tubeworkers at Conway Hall before one of the strikes last year. From the welcome starting point that he supported our action, he then insisted that the only way to win was to go on all-out strike - anything less was pointless! Was this really intended to be helpful - given that an initial 48 hour strike was followed by a scaled down 24 hour strike, followed by suspending the action due to lack of support? What Ken's game was at that point is difficult to say. His speech was more like that of a union bureaucrat trying to undermine action than a fellow socialist trying to lend support.

Livingstone is remembered with affection by tubeworkers for the Fares Fair policy, but it is less well remembered that he was also responsible for the introduction of One-Person Operation in 1985 and the subsequent loss of thousands of guards' jobs. As leader of the Greater London Council in 1981-6 he related to tubeworkers as a (sometimes benign) manager, not as a fellow fighter seeking to mobilise our support. Managers often have to make hard decisions - hard for their workforce, that is. And this time round, as Mayor, will it be any different?

The fight to get Livingstone elected is important and should be supported. But it is vital that our campaign is capable of thinking critically and placing the emphasis on policy, not personality.

Where exactly does Ken stand on tube privatisation? At a public meeting called by the rail unions at Friends' House, he repeated an assertion he has made before. If the contracts for the privatisation are already signed before he becomes Mayor - or before the government cedes control to the Mayor - then there will be nothing he can do except ensure the contracts are followed to the dot and comma. Ah, that well known socialist demand! If he is elected, he will have an immense democratic mandate to tear up the contracts. That is the commitment we need from him.

Ken Livingstone gets headlines trumpeting his opposition to Tube privatisation while there are plenty of get-out clauses in the small print. The last thing the labour movement needs to do is give him a blank cheque. We need to mobilise broad forces in a campaign that fights to win the selection, and then the manifesto and the Mayoral election, on the basis of socialist policies, not "three cheers for Ken".

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