Friday marked the end of 48 hours of action by the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT). The union's General Secretary, Bob Crow has come under fire from critics and commentators for a number of reasons. There have been moments within the strike that have been questionable - like the bizarre way that Mayor Boris Johnson and Bob Crow seemed only to negotiate via the radio waves. However, one of the most absurd criticisms of the strike is the inconvenience that it has caused for many in London justifies a ban on the right to strike by services such as the London underground.
Last I checked, the best and most successful strikes in history have been those that have caused disruption. RMT will not have voted to strike, with the aim of making commuters' lives more convenient. Explicitly, the strike has done exactly what it set out to do. The public, the news media and politicians have taken notice of the actions of one group of workers - notice that has passed other groups of workers striking for similar reasons this year.
As successful as the strike has been in its primary role, the actions of RMT have provided an opening into the way that workers are viewed in austerity Britain - amongst some of the political and media elite at least.
As an avid fan of BBC Question Time, the programme on 6 February did not disappoint. Most fascinating was the question posed, asking whether group like RMT should indeed have their right to strike removed, because of the disruption caused. Politicians like Matthew Hancock MP and elite media personalities like David Starkey all opposed the strike. Mr Starkey had some harsh criticisms, saying that train drivers could in fact be replaced by "dummies."
With no outright support coming from any of the panellists aside from George Galloway MP, these responses show that in times of austerity, workers are expected by those in charge to forfeit their rights in support of the 'all in this together' austerity mantra. To be more specific, workers can exercise their right to strike, providing it is not successful.
Lest we forget, university lecturer unions are striking across this week and next. Their concerns are valid and important, but their disruption affects only a select group of people. Similarly, we have seen multiple firefighter strikes over recent months. These strikes have been only for a few hours in the day, and their ideas were lost in a sea of more important news events. This minimal (albeit important) amount of disruption is the accepted amount in your right to strike.
The reason that this insight is so significant, is that it surely has a bearing on other injustices in terms of workers. Why has more action not been taken to combat poverty amongst those in working families? Why has there been no credible campaign against the use of zero-hour contracts and part-time work? Why has the minimum wage not risen with the cost of living?
Arguably, these injustices are simply supposed to be tolerated as a part of austerity Britain too and that any credible action against such injustices, is an act against your fellow man.
Therefore, I thank the RMT for their action; the first for some time to show grit. They have opened our eyes to our worst suspicions about the directors of austerity in Britain. How we are all just "dummies" in the eyes of the elite. The right to strike should not be withheld as a result of non-violent disruption. Non-violent action should be encouraged as the most effective way to make change.
By withdrawing the means by which the investors, the bankers and indeed the ordinary employees move around London and interact with one another, RMT has temporarily stopped the machine. But more importantly, it has exposed the way that austerity has now come to represent a warrant to remove your rights as a worker.Suggest a correction