If you live in or around London, or work there, or know anyone who does, your social media will have been drenched in anger at the Tube strike this morning, along with the occasional voice popping up with: “I was saying Boo-urns.”
Anyway, many people’s first instinct is to blame the strikers (even if they couched in terms of support for nurses / teachers / anyone except tube drivers), so I thought I’d explain why mine isn’t.
To begin, I must declare an interest: I intend to use the Night Tube. I’d rather the person in control of the metal drunk-ferry burrowing its way through subterranean London at peak suicide time felt well-rested and recompensed and able to concentrate on getting me home without being dead.
They’re actually fighting for your pay and conditions
Wait, what? No they’re not? I don’t earn that much.
In a country where more people are employed with better pay and conditions it puts EVERYONE in a better position to negotiate with their employer. The problem with this strike is that rail unions are pretty much the only ones that have been doing their job for the last 30 years.
When unions don’t fight for pay and conditions, they are pushed down, because there are lots of people wanting them pushed down. And if they’re pushed down in one industry, they will be pushed down in another.
Don’t believe me?
The main argument you’ll hear against the Tube drivers is that other people in other industries don’t earn that much. Because their pay hasn’t risen in line with inflation since the seventies, whereas the RMT has made sure Tube drivers’ has.
The low pay of others is used as a stick to lower the pay of everyone else.
However, in a world where everyone has decent pay and conditions is much more difficult for employers to make people accept painful changes in working conditions because there are lots of other places they can go. Well-paid work that offers good benefits is contagious, it gives you options. It gives you the chance to say “Sod this. I’m going to be a train driver.”
It’s part of the fight for a better world
I know, I know, it’s terribly unfashionable to want a better world nowadays, and even more gross and decrepit to actually try and do something about it. I’m old. Deal with it.
Which is what many people are telling the strikers:
If the real world sucks, we shouldn’t get over it. We should fight it. That’s what you do when something sucks. That’s what you’re meant to do.
That’s what being a decent human being is. Not getting over the things that suck, and not getting over the things that suck for other people as well as for yourself.
I’m tired of the hideously unproductive people of Nepal coming whining to me every time one of their mountains falls on their heads. Welcome to life in the Himalayas. It sucks. Get over it.
If we get over it every time something sucks then things will just continue to suck and then begin to suck more and more as the people who are making it suck see us getting over it every time something sucks.
(Incidentally, that “good luck” comment pretty much shows why, if every union fought like this everyone would get paid more. Because you wouldn’t need luck. Those jobs would be available.)
What is a strike?
I appreciate that none of this will convince people who fundamentally think that certain people shouldn’t be entitled to be consulted when their working hours are changed drastically overnight.
But it is an important part of a free market that when someone wants to renegotiate a contract, by, say, making you now essentially nocturnal for a significant part of your life, that you should have a say in whether that’s an acceptable amendment to your contract.
Because that’s the way contracts work.
You don’t get to change them and at the same time expect the other party to continue working as they did before. It’s a process of negotiation, and as a working person one of your negotiating tools is your right not to work.
It’s your key tool. Your right to say, “Nope, I’m not doing that. It doesn’t pay enough, it’s too dangerous, it will ruin my home life. I’m not doing that for that.”
And if an employer can come up with an offer you are willing to work for, then that’s just dandy.
It’s fundamental to human dignity, to the idea of control over your own life to be able to decide what is worth you doing for what money. To enter into a contract as an equal.
“Would you do this for this much?”
“Would you do this for this much?”
That’s the way free markets are meant to work. It’s the way life is meant to work. It’s about having the ability to dispense with the one asset you really have – your time on this planet – in the way you decide will be most beneficial for you and your family.
And every assault on pay, or conditions, for anyone in any industry narrows the options for us all. It means there are fewer jobs that you would find worth doing for what they pay, you have fewer options.
That’s why I support today’s strike, and that’s why I support every strike.