7 February

Bob Crow, Strikes and Society

This week Londoners are divided: some know they need to work, and others feel they must strike. Due to the interconnectedness of occupations this engenders bitterness. If the strikers were retail staff or lawyers or civil servants, life for the rest of us would be largely unaffected, but since they are Tube staff others are angry.

Communications do not of themselves produce anything of intrinsic value. Their value may be measured rather by what they make it possible to create. Since only a tiny minority ride on London Underground trains for fun we may safely conclude that the value of the Tube is rests upon what its three million or so daily users make.

The interests of TfL and of its staff are ineluctably tied up with those of its customers. Since the strike hinders Londoners from making things that have value, the tube network itself loses value. It might in fact be readily be argued that, since strike action is against further automation of stations and consequent staff redundancies, it would actually be in the interests of TfL customers to support the company against the union so that future such strikes become impossible! The same goes for extending automation to trains themselves across the tube network as is already the case on the DLR. While the current strike may ‘send a message’ to Boris Johnson and TfL about Tube workers’ resolve (or that of 38% of them who voted) to keep stations fully manned, the acrimony produced will only accelerate the very process it is intended to stop. This amounts to something damaging for both TfL workers and Londoners more generally.

In many respects the RMT Union’s blindness to its members’ real interests is symptomatic of a growing failure of unionism. We see the narrow interests of trade union bosses aping those of the least benevolent of capitalists. The latter desire fast augmentation of cash capital, and the former of their own capital in the shape of benefits and improved working conditions for the workers who elect them, regardless of longer-term effects on the industry. It is tragic.

Since strike action by RMT workers undermines the very value of their continued survival as such, it is difficult to think of it as anything other than abject failure.

At the same time, since one is expected these days to declare one’s interests, I must allow that this post has allowed me to vent one traveller’s personal frustration.

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