When the RMT union scheduled a walkout over the potential loss of over a thousand jobs there was a lot of outcries from the media and politicians alike. As there is whenever industrial action is threatened, people are frustrated by the potential disruption to their everyday lives. Why is this? Why do we have such a negative attitude towards strikes? Perhaps it is still a hangover from the past but whatever it is I do not believe it is either healthy or desirable.
Whenever unions even speculate strike action – as the RMT recently did – there is always a disproportionate outcry from the media and the politicians. They often speak of union bosses ‘holding the country to ransom’. They are very quick to point out to the general public that the action could cause disruption to their lives for up to 48 hours!
It seems to me that we have got this all very, very wrong. Whatever happened to solidarity with the workers? Are we not concerned that a politician is completely going back on his promise and cutting jobs from a sector he specifically campaigned to protect? If these workers lose their jobs they will be joining the same dole queues that a large amount of Britons current waiting in, desperately in search of a job in a poor economic climate.
Do we not realise that as individuals we cannot exercise power the same kind of power on the government as we can as a collective? Since Thatcher brought in this seemingly religious devotion to neoliberal economic policy we have forgotten what solidarity between working people is. The Mayor of London is playing a very obvious political game – he knows that if he frames the argument as worker against workers then he can undermine the very thing that makes industrial action effective.
It is our individualistic view of society that has got us in the mess we are currently in – if we are unable to see that in fact if our neighbours pay, working conditions and ultimately job are threatened then that could have implications for us as well. Perhaps Bob Crow and the RMT union do not have a mandate for strike action; regardless of this however, is it not the case that these same arguments are used against all industrial action? Do we ever hear Conservative politicians or Daily Mail columnists accept that strike action is justified?
Of course we do not, because they do not believe it is ever justified. They do not possess this belief because strike action is rarely effective; they possess it because their vision of Britain’s economy involves a passive workforce. Furthermore, we do not acknowledge that strike action is effective because we do not empathise with the workers. I can accept that the London Underground must modernised but why does this mean that people must lose their jobs, why does modernisation have to result in a shrinking job market rather than an expanding one? This issue is not the fault of the unions or the working people who are scared of becoming unemployed. On the contrary, it is a result of post-humanity economy policy which successive governments have pursued since Thatcher.
Boris Johnson refused to meet with Bob Crow to discuss strike action but he is aware that he is in hopeless position. Getting rid of ticket offices does not have to result in a decrease in the work force: RMT is perfectly willing to discuss putting more workers on the platforms. There are genuine options which can result in modernisation that does not result in a decrease in the labour force.
I think that we really need to change our attitude towards industrial action in this country. Yes, it is annoying when you cannot get to work or school but surely we all realise that this men and women are only taking this decision because they feel they can do nothing else. We must be aware that if we continue to let politicians cut hundreds of thousands of jobs under the name of ‘modernisation’ or ‘efficiently’ then ultimately we are just building an economy that is based on low paid jobs and insecure labour. And if we do not express solidarity with those men and women crying out to prevent these injustices, then really there is nothing to stop this from occurring.