Bullshit Bingo - Or, How To Take On The Anti-Strike Arguments

Submitted by Tubeworker on Wed, 08/07/2015 - 21:50

As our strike begins and services shut down, we're reminded, along with the rest of London, of the immense power of withdrawing our labour. But the accompanying barrage of vitriolic hostility in the media also reminds us that we're part of a wider fight; this isn't just about us versus our bosses, it's about us, as part of the working-class movement, against the boss class, its government, and the press which backs it.

As we all settle down for a few hours' sleep before rising early for picket lines, Tubeworker offers this handy guide to rebutting the bullshit that's thrown at us. We hope it comes in useful. (All the arguments cited here are based on ones used in real media articles.)

They say: "This strike is about Tube drivers, who already earn £50k, striking for more money."

We say: Firstly, this is a strike involving all grades of LU employees, not just drivers. We don't all earn £50k - some of us earn much less.

Secondly, this is not principally a strike "for more money", as issues of work/life balance are more central for most of us than the financial aspects.

And finally, as one supporter put it on Twitter, criticising well-paid workers for striking is like criticising physically-fit people for exercising. Part of the reasons we are paid relatively well is because we've fought for higher wages. The way to close the gap between us and other workers is for the whole labour movement to fight for the levelling up of wages. For more on this, see here.

They say: "Tube workers are holding London to ransom", "Tube workers are screwing ordinary people over by making it impossible for them to travel", etc.

We say: Our labour is integral to the social and economic functioning of London. When we withdraw that labour, that functioning is disrupted. While few of us will shed a tear for the fact that the City isn't able to cream it as much as it normally would, none of us take any pleasure in inconveniencing other working-class people.

But every strike involves some degree of inconvenience to someone. As workers, our labour is all we have; selling it is our only means of survival, withdrawing it is our only means of leverage.

The logic of attacking us for using the only weapon we have to fight against attacks on our terms and conditions is to argue that we should automatically roll over and accept whatever our bosses have in store for us, because whatever it is, it couldn't possibly be as bad as inconveniencing the travelling public.

Critics who tell us we should "find some other way" to express our grievances never seem to have any suggestions as to what that "other way" might be. Tubeworker believes effective campaigning does need to involve more than just strikes - we should use other forms of industrial action, such as overtime bans (which we are using), and explore other possibilities too, as well as conducting political campaigning including rallies and demos. But our most fundamental and powerful tool will always be the withdrawal of labour, and no-one has the right to tell us we can't use it.

But there's another aspect to all this too. LU's vision of the Tube is nightmarish for passengers: staffing levels cut to the bare minimum, stations staffed by overworked, stressed workers, no ticket offices, etc. Our strikes aim to stop that nightmare becoming a reality. It might be inconvenient for a day, or two days, or a week (if and when we escalate action), but if we lose this fight, things'll be more than "inconvenient" - travelling on the Tube will become unpleasant, inaccessible, and unsafe.

That's why campaigns like Hands Off London Transport are so important - they allow us to unite with passengers and community groups to explain how our industrial action is about protecting the future of public transport.

They say: "Teachers, nurses, and other workers also work long hours, often for less pay than Tube workers. It's selfish for Tube workers to strike."

We say: The contortion of logic here is baffling. Do the people who make this argument imagine that if we didn't go on strike, teachers' and nurses' pay, terms, and conditions would improve? Are they arguing that we should take a kicking from our bosses to achieve some kind of negative equality, a general levelling-down?

Invariably, people who make arguments like this also moan when teachers and nurses go on strike ("How dare they? I had to keep my kids home from school", "How dare they? People might die", etc.). The argument isn't really about the relative conditions of different groups of workers, it's a cynical way of saying "put up with your lot and keep quiet about it".

They say: "I work long hours and have bad conditions, but I never go on strike. If they don't like it they should find another job."

We say: This is a favourite of the vox pop interviews with disgruntled commuters that fill the pages of the Evening Standard on strike day. It's difficult to know where to even start with this one - what's basically being argued is, "I am servile, so I believe everyone else should be too."

Well, thanks, but no thanks. Maybe if you did go on strike, you wouldn't have had such long hours and bad conditions?

No right enjoyed by any worker was ever handed down through bosses' benevolence. If none of us fought, we'd all have a shit deal.

As for the "find another job" argument... why should we? We like the jobs we've got, thanks, and we'd rather fight to stop them getting more stressful and detrimental to our health than just quit.

Tubeworker encourages all our readers to stand firm tomorrow. We might get some abuse from people who can't see the wider picture, who swallow the lies the anti-union media tells them, or who simply don't believe working-class people should fight for a better deal.

But by striking, we're reminding our employer, and London, and (perhaps most importantly) ourselves who actually runs the railway. It's not Mike Brown, or Steve Griffiths, or the army of bureaucrats and managers in the upper echelons of TfL and LU. It's us. We drive the trains, we run the stations, we maintain and fix everything. And we have every right to resist attempts by our bosses to make us work in a way that will be damaging to our health and family and social lives, and will be to the detriment of our passengers.

Solidarity, brothers and sisters!

Seen any other anti-strike bullshit we should respond to? Leave a comment below or visit us on Facebook, here.


Submitted by Londoncommuter on Thu, 09/07/2015 - 17:47

Hi there,

I would firstly like to put on record that I fully support strike action by any and all trade unions because, as you mention above, it is the only way to receive (or in more cases these days - retain) favourable working conditions.

I would, however, like to point out the "other way" as alluded to above. A way to ensure that the paymasters listen to you, while not actually inconveniencing the normal working Londoner (and no, it is not a myth!)

The most elegant solution (from my point of view anyway) would be to emulate the tactics used during strikes on the Paris Metro. In a nutshell, this would involve all union members going to work as normal so that the trains run as well as they would on an ordinary day, however to take no money from passengers for the service and simply leave all TfL ticket gates open. This has the duel pronged attack of hitting the paymasters where it hurts (the pocket) whilst no ordinary working Londoner is inconvenienced.

This would, I believe, cause TfL to listen whilst garnering a lot more support from the man on the street for your plight.

Submitted by Tubeworker on Mon, 13/07/2015 - 03:44

In reply to by Londoncommuter

Hi Londoncommuter,

I'm replying in a personal capacity (and anonymously) as an individual supporter of Tubeworker. As the comment below notes, Tubeworker has long been an advocate of this type of action. Some headway was made in the first strikes against job cuts in 2014; the RMT did call action along these lines to supplement strikes. For the reasons stated below, it was somewhat patchy.

The difficulty with this kind of action is that it requires a very high level of confidence and organisation. If only a few workers on a station are up for participating, and others aren't, it's easy to undermine. It's also easy for managers to victimise workers for taking part in this kind of action unless it's solid across the board. There are also technical aspects to consider (e.g., to make a "fare strike" really impacting, you'd need to turn off all the ticket selling machines and open all the gates). Those aren't reasons not to try it, but we should be aware that it's not easy.

The other problem with this action is that it can only be carried out by certain grades. Drivers, engineers, service controllers, etc., can't participate in a "fare strike" as they're not involved in selling tickets or monitoring gatelines.

One thing I would say, though, is that tactics like this have to be supplementary to strikes, not substitutes for them. Withdrawing our labour is still our most fundamental means of leverage and although we don't relish the inconvenience that can cause to other working-class people, we can't let concern for that inconvenience supersede our right to strike. Every strike causes some inconvenience to someone (or worse: when firefighters or nurses strike, people might die. In those cases there are various models for arranging emergency cover from picket lines under workers control, but we should still defend those workers' right to strike), there's just no getting around that. Shutting down the Tube network entirely - stopping every train from moving and closing every station - has an impact that no other form of action is capable of. A strike is about the withdrawal of labour, and our labour is not limited to selling tickets and monitoring gatelines.

So yes, we should experiment with "fare strikes" and other forms of action that hurt the bosses but don't inconvenience the passengers, but we need to use them to supplement rather than replace strikes.

A Tubeworker supporter

Submitted by Tubeworker on Sun, 12/07/2015 - 16:33

Thanks for the comment. Tubeworker has long advocated this particular action.

Finally, after many years of us and others asking the union to try it, RMT called a "revenue strike" in the Every Job Matters dispute last year.

In some places it worked quite well. But in others, people (mainly supervisors and managers) broke the action, and unfortunately, a section of union reps talked it down, predicting that it would not work.

With this experience, and with our current union Executive, it is unlikely to be repeated anytime soon.

Add new comment

This website uses cookies, you can find out more and set your preferences here.
By continuing to use this website, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms & Conditions.