We were all there last September marching for better wages, but what about better working conditions? Why are we setting up Facebook groups such as ‘Ban tube strikes’ and ‘We hate tube strikes’ and filling Twitter with endless abbreviated profanities directed at the underground staff (albeit 140 characters worth)?
The strike is at an all-time low with tube staff retaining the remnants of a tradition that Thatcher’s anti-solidarity regime in the 1980’s left us with, but why is public support so low too? With new sanctions being imposed to reduce worker rights in the UK, we are heading towards an anti-union state. Business Secretary and Conservative MP, Sajid Javid, has introduced numerous new draconian Tory trade union proposals. These include the move for strikes to only go ahead if 50 per cent of the workforce vote in the ballot, for strikes to only go ahead if 40 per cent of those voters vote in favour, for any unlawful or intimidating picketing should become a criminal offence (not only civil) as well as restrictions on trade union working hours, amongst many other constraints.
Tube drivers, whilst many assure us (namely Murdoch, Desmond and Co) that their jobs are ‘cushy’, are simply trying to retain a working contract that Tfl seem to have overlooked. Their hours are changing, their job security is changing and so too will their passenger numbers (and rapport) change. Why are we so surprised that tube workers aren’t looking forward to cleaning up vomit and dealing with a runny-nosed raver who has just been thrown out of Fabric at five am for snorting too much talc?
We should all be sticking together, uniting in mutual rights- both in our state and in our workplace. Pitting brother against brother is not going to lead us towards a country of greatness, whatever our namesake suggests. We should be against the bureaucracy that is trying to tell us that they have the power to change our hours, change how often we can see our families and eventually turn us into the machinery that they are inevitably planning to replace us with anyway.
I hear echoes of “I wish my job allowed that” yet instead of this sentiment paraded as empathy, we are turning it into an ‘us and them’ situation. “We don’t have these rights” or “We don’t have the balls to act upon our grievances, so they shouldn’t either!” But who are are we? As Yevgeny Zamyatin wrote in his 1920’s dystopian novel, We:“I had long since ceased to understand who they were, who we were.” We should be the workers and the non-workers, the parents and the children, the British and the non-British- the ones who are making this country great, not the ones cowering away in their taxis en-route to their part-time London homes that the odor of flat Dom Perignon lingers in. Surely we can stand a day without the underground?
Of course, there are always going to be subjective issues. People can’t get the bus for such-and-such reason, they can’t cycle because of a bad back or perhaps they just don’t fancy bumping into Boris Johnson. And take the day off work? Are you mad? The world will most definitely implode if you don’t get those numbers to Clare at 10 am sharp. And of course the best reason of all: “I can’t afford to take a day off.” Well, we’ve all been there but what we should be doing is standing together to fight the ones who are making us live on the breadline. Fighting the idea that our sole purpose in life is to be a slave to our society. It doesn’t matter whether the tube workers are making £10,000 or £60,000. They’re workers just like you and me. They have families and lives and deserve for that to be recognised. Hey, just because I worked for the shorter, less-tanned Cruella De Ville-meets-Tony Blair who hadn’t an inkling of how to produce a rota more than 12 hours in advance, doesn’t mean that I want someone else to live through the same thing.
We are heading towards an anti-trade union state, with David C and pals implementing new proposals and by-laws which is trudging down the path towards 21st century Combinations Acts. The Combinations Acts of 1799 and 1800 stripped workers of any right to unionise with colleagues or to strike in order to increase wages/decrease hours/question the workplace hierarchy. Or, as the buttered-up version explains: “An Act to prevent Unlawful Combinations of Workmen”. Boris Johnson actually made a plea to Londoners in 2004 when he urged people to: ‘Vote for Boris, vote for a no-strike deal.’
It is understandable, the anguish a well-paid job brings to people, but it is just one of the many ways the Fourth Estate (the media) and the Tory government are trying to push us apart. In this society we are carrying on Thatcher’s legacy of individualism and that “…everyone has the right to be unequal,” but surely everyone has the right to be equal too?
We should all be out there on the picket line with the RMT, TSSA, Aslef and Unite on Wednesday evening August 5 and Tuesday morning August 6, supporting workers’ rights and the trade union strength that so many comrades have fought to maintain for every soul. Let us not furrow our brows at those who are paid more than us. We should be angry that, in an age of technology and operational hierarchy, we are still doing the same amount of hours as in the 19th century, with restrictions on hours only implemented in 1833 for children through the Factory Act (amid Robert Owen’s repeated earlier attempts).
The act of striking is a sacred and important tradition which is vital to our country. As Tony Benn said: “…the right to revolt is an ancient one that must always be held in reserve as a protection against the possibility that one day democracy and self-government might be removed.”