The tube strike could have come at a better time for me. I am self-employed and travel across london for my work – and this week has been busy. Yesterday I had to shuttle between Putney, Dalston and Wembley. Yet funnily enough this experience has not caused me to join the massed ranks of rabidly anti-union commuters whose ‘thoughts’ have been peppering the London evening press.
Given the situation facing tube operators it is completely understandable that they should have chosen to take industrial action. Boris Johnson’s plans put many hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs at risk. But this in itself does not adequately express the gravity of the situation facing tube drivers. The point is that right now there are about 2,000,000 people out of work and about 500,000 vanancies in the economy. Lose your job and you are potentially reall really fucked. Given these numbers, it is clear that people facing compulsory redundancy could well face a lengthy period of unemployment. And anyone who knows anything about long term unemployment will know that such experiences can be life ruining.
So with thousands of its members facing such serious a threat, the RMT has taken decisive action to – shock horror – defend its members interests (thats what unions are meant to do, remember). Yet as I read the letters pages of the London Lite and The London Paper, I get the impression that those who have most to say about the strike have hardly given a seconds thought to the issues involved, or to the grave threats facing those people who get us to work every day. What comes across instead is a narrow and obsessive, and basically quite selfish concern with how god damn inconvenient it is.
And how this inconvenience has been milked and exagerrated. How our sense of victimhood and martyrdom has soared out of all proportion to reality. A headline in the London Lite yesterday referred to the ‘gung ho’ spirit that got commuters to work. Boris Johnson declared that those who made it in to work were ‘heroes’. Elsewhere we heard about tube drivers ‘holding london hostage’. I don’t want to sound like some old git, but you can tell this generation has lived through a world war.
In reality, we commuters suffered a couple of days in which our journeys took longer, in which our mornings might of started earlier and in which our journeys became a bit more unpleasant. This resulted from an action in which thousands of people ere fighiting to protect their livelihoods. If anything the experience brought home how much we rely on these tube drivers to get us to work, or to shops or to clubs and pubs – when and as we please. We would do well to remember that this, actually quite fantastic, service is rendered to us by human beings. And that these people too have lives to lead, kids to provide for and jobs to protect.