Certain middle class commentators seem to have a sizeable sense of entitlement as they direct their anger at the drivers and guards striking against their treatment by Southern Railways.
If you’re a passenger who supports the strike, or at least appreciates the complexity of the issues, you are not the one who is likely to get quoted in the right-wing media. You’re more likely to be heard if you say something like, “Because of the strikers, I’m going to be two hours late for work!”.
I wonder how these people imagine they get to work normally. Do they think that the trains magically glide along without the effort of the very same people who they are now attacking for striking?
Some angrily blame strikers for making them late. When there are no strikes on, I doubt that many of these people put the same energy into thanking the same workers for getting them to their destinations on time.
Similarly, those who blame postal workers for striking should be taken seriously only if, on every other day, they thank postal workers for delivering the post.
Sadly, some people from privileged backgrounds don’t seem to notice that the world works for them only because of other people’s work. Trains move because people drive them. Public toilets are clean because people clean them. They can buy things in shops because people serve them. Their children can go to school because people teach them.
Some workers only get noticed when they stop doing the work for which they are so rarely thanked on every other day.
If workers’ concerns are noticed only when they are striking, then it’s hardly suprising that they choose to do so.
Of course, it’s not just the rich who sometimes display these attitudes. In an atomised society that promotes “independence”, we can easily forget that we are all dependent on each other. I cannot drink a cup of tea without relying on the thousands of people who have picked the tea, packaged it, transported it and sold it, the people who made the mug I’m drinking from and the equally large number of people involved in producing and selling the milk and sugar.
Many commuters affected by the strikes earn less than the staff who are striking – because they don’t have the strong unions that rail workers maintain to promote their concerns.
If, like me, you spend large parts of your life travelling by train in Britain, then you’ve probably spent many hours despairing of delayed trains or getting anxious as you stand crammed in crowded carriages.
You’ve probably not found someone from the Daily Telegraph popping up to get a quote from you about how stressful and inconvenient this is. Unless, of course, this situation arose during a strike, when right-wing journalists trip over each other to gather stories of the “misery” that they can blame on the unions.
The government and their allies allege that these strikes are political. They are right. Putting safety before profit – by keeping guards on trains – is a political position. Suggesting that disabled passengers should have equal access to transport – which is helped by having guards on trains – is political. It is political to ask people to cope with inconvenience so that they can support each other in taking action that protects each others’ needs. These are all political positions that I am happy to hold and to promote.
Yes, the strikes are political. Everything’s political – including safety, access and mutual support.