I worry that Bob Crowe and the RMT are walking into a trap, like Scargill did. The anti-union narrative is already gaining traction in the media and it sounds ominously like the narrative that was created in 1984 that the Miners had not balloted for strike action and that thus the strike was illegitimate and Thatcher was the defender of ‘the people’ against the tyrannical, anti-democratic ‘enemy within’.
The narrative around the tube strike is this: (i) The closure of ticket offices is an inevitable result of technological improvements and to oppose the closures is irrational Luddite extremism. (ii) The employers are being incredibly generous in guaranteeing no compulsory redundancies so no one is losing their job who doesn’t want to. (iii) Boris is an elected democratic leader who is defending ‘the people’ against these Luddite extremists who are holding ‘the people’ to ransom in order to pursue their irrational and unreasonable demands. (iv) ‘The People’ need to remember ‘the spirit of the Blitz’ and ‘fight for democracy’ against this tiny tyrannical minority of Luddite extremists who must not be allowed to triumph.
Boris is understandably relishing a fight on these terms; he wants a fight and Cameron has already seen the potential in the fight by punting the idea that in light of the ‘irrational and irresponsible’ RMT action, the Tories could bring in legislation to ban workers in ‘essential services’ from taking industrial action.
If tube workers could be banned from striking because they are an ‘essential service’, then surely the same would apply to the fire brigade, schools, colleges, universities, post offices, freight transport companies, bus companies, the railways, tv & radio stations, oil companies, water companies, gas companies, electricity companies, power stations, dustbin men, waste disposal, the sewers, hospital porters, nurses, doctors, pharmacists, care-workers and Telecom companies. Surely, if we allow London Transport workers to be designated as ‘essential workers’ then what is there to stop the Tories designating all of the above in the same way?
And then any collective opposition to Neoliberalism is basically over for 20-30 years – until inequality, unemployment, ill-health, poverty, pay and working conditions get soooo bad people become prepared to fight again.
It seems to me two things have to happen (i) The RMT and the Trade Union movement have to present a credible alternative narrative to that presented by Boris and The Tories – and ‘public safety’ isn’t going to cut it I’m afraid. OR (ii) The RMT have to pick a more convincing battle to fight.