Hours after Osborne announced his latest attacks on ordinary people, 20,000 Tube workers began strike action over safety concerns. The Tories accuse the unions of “holding the city to ransom”. These are rich words indeed, coming from the very same people who are trying to make workers, the youth, and the poor pay for a crisis they did not cause.
Tory hypocrisy yesterday was not confined to the Budget. Hours after Osborne announced his latest attacks on ordinary people, 20,000 Tube workers began the longest and largest strike action that the London Underground (LU) has seen since 2002. The intransigent bosses and their Tory chums, such as London Mayor Boris Johnson, accuse the unions of “holding the city to ransom”. These are rich words indeed, coming from the very same bosses and politicians who have allowed the City – that is, the banks and big business – to hold the rest of the country to ransom, as workers, the youth, and the poor are made to pay for a crisis they did not cause.
LU management and the Tory press have attempted to slur the strikers with references to their decent pay (of course, not mentioning that this has been won through years of struggle and militant action), attempting to portray union members as nothing more than a privileged layer with yet more unreasonable demands. As with their slander against public sector workers who have sought to protect their “gold-plated” pensions (which, are in fact far from gilded) and pay, the Tory government are once again trying to turn the public against those workers who seek to defend themselves against the attack of the bosses on their terms and conditions.
But this strike is not even really about pay. All four unions representing LU staff – the RMT, TSSA, ASLEF, and Unite – are actually taking co-ordinated action, leaving the Tube network closed from Wednesday evening until Friday morning, in protest against plans by the bosses to force Tube workers onto potentially unlimited nightshifts, as night-services are introduced on the Tube this September.
Such night-heavy rotas would not only severely disrupt the sleeping patterns, health, and lives of Tube workers, but would also impact heavily on the safety of the Underground itself, as sleep-deprived staff are forced to work long into the night. Far from “holding the city to ransom”, therefore, the unions are acting to try and guarantee safe conditions for all of London’s citizens and visitors.
Indeed, the reeking hypocrisy of the Tories and the bosses know no bounds. Boris Johnson and the rest of the Conservative Party politicians cry crocodile tears about the one-or-two days of disruption to ordinary people’s lives caused by the Tube strike. And yet what criticism do we hear from these same politicians about the far more disastrous and permanent misery experienced by millions as a result of Tory austerity and attacks on welfare and public services? When have Johnson, Osborne, or Cameron shown any sympathy for the thousands of Londoners who struggle to make ends meet and rely on (ever-diminishing) housing benefits due to parasitic landlords and their sky-high rents?
LU management and Tory politicians have stated that the strike is politically motivated, claiming that trade union leaders were unwilling to negotiate. Ignoring the fact that all strikes are in part political, given that they are protests against cuts and attacks made by the capitalists or the government that supports them, the reality is again 180-degrees opposite from the rhetoric of the bosses and the right-wing press. In truth, it is the LU management who has tried to bully the unions into accepting their impossible terms, using divide-and-rule tactics in an attempt to split the striking unions by promising bonuses for certain layers of Tube workers whilst attacking the conditions of others. The strong co-ordinated action being taken is testament to the unity of the workers in the face of these attempts to ride roughshod over their lives and the safety of ordinary people.
If anyone could be accused of “politically motivated” actions, it is the Tories, who are using this latest strike to whip up hysteria against the Tube unions and go on the offensive against the labour movement in general. Once again, they are stressing the need to restrict the rights of unions to strike, in order to “protect the public” from these “vested interests”. Writing in the Evening Standard, Tory Transport Secretary, Patrick McLoughlin invoked the language of Thatcher’s “enemy within” description of the miners, stating, “be assured: we won’t surrender to the strikers,” before going on to re-iterate government plans to hamstring the unions by decreeing low-turnout ballots as illegitimate. Unfortunately for McLoughlin and his Tory friends, even these latest plans would have been little use for the current strike, which received a tremendous vote of 9:1 in favour of action, with 98% of ASLEF members voting for strike action on a turnout of 81%.
Such is the hatred of the Tories and the bosses they represent that such situations will increasingly arise. Attempts to restrict strike action through legal measures will prove impotent in the face of mass anger against the attacks and austerity aimed at the working class. The task now is for the leaders of the labour movement to harness this anger by explicitly calling for political strike action – that is, for a one-day general strike against austerity; against the Tory government; and against the capitalist class of bosses and bankers that they represent.