In what is perhaps the most successful politically aggressive advertisement of all time, Margaret Thatcher’s Tory party once declared: “Work doesn’t work”.
If you showed up at any train station yesterday, you’d think Britain doesn’t work.
Trains have been cancelled. Ticket office closed. Where otherwise bustling masses of commuters could be found, there were pickets and placards.
Our rail services had ground to a halt because railroad unions, including the militant RMT, had led tens of thousands of rail workers on strike to demand huge, inflation-matched wage increases.
RMT boss Mick Lynch, who avidly tours pickets and TV studios, says his workers deserve double-digit wage increases amid massive pressure on the cost of living. The strikes would “continue” until the bosses back down, he warned. He even threatened an (illegal) general strike.
Strikes hit vulnerable
As impressive as Mick Lynch has become as a media artist, the question is not who wins the PR game, but whether we can avoid a throwback to the past.
A winter of dissatisfaction lies ahead. Not only for the public, but also for the Labor Party. Sir Keir Starmer must hold his ground against anti-inflationary wage increases if he is to remain economically credible.
He has ordered his MPs to stay away from pickets. That was the right thing.
But reports that he has secretly scrapped that policy and apologized to union leaders are deeply concerning if true. He has no excuses when he stands up for the passenger and consumer. That is the role of the modern Labor Party.
Crucially, the Labor leadership should spell out why they are unwilling to automatically support every single industrial action. Sir Keir should not apologize for understanding that anyone who wants to be Prime Minister has to represent the whole nation, not just a few unions, many of which, like the RMT, are not Labor affiliated and in return offer no support.
Some on the British left believe it is always: ‘workers – right or wrong’.
But every canceled train could mean a retiree’s missed hospital appointment, make a shophand’s commute all the more hellish, or cancel a long-awaited family reunion.
Like most people, I sympathize with workers who want to maintain their standard of living. It’s daunting to make ends meet now and the prospect of heating the family home this winter is overwhelming for many.
But the danger is that far from hitting ‘the bosses’, strike action hits the most vulnerable.
Who needs public transport the most? Not the rich and powerful who can get in their car or cab. Or better yet, stay home, put your feet up and sign up for a few Zoom meetings over a nice warm cup of tea.
It’s those who fight, who rely on public transport, who get thrashed.
Other strike threats from teachers and nurses present the same dilemma. Children and patients are not the “capitalist enemy”.
It will be poor children, living in cramped quarters with no books on their shelves, who will suffer the most when schools close again. The impact on vulnerable patients when tools are shut down need not be considered. Unions should remember that. And so must we as a Labor Party if we hope to finish 10th. Government ministers should also form up.
It’s all very well for them to use the dispute to smash the unions and clip their wings with new legislation, but the British public at large deserves trains that run and staff that feel valued. They will not forgive a government if it allows the conflict to drag on in an avoidable manner.
I’ve been a unionist my whole life and I still belong to a union. I’ve seen firsthand the conflicts of the past, including the 1984 miners’ strike.
I was Chairman of Sheffield City Council when Arthur Scargill led almost 200,000 men on strike. His union, the NUM, was headquartered in my city.
I experienced the emotions of this unforgettable time.
But I also saw the tremendous damage and heartache caused when families in South Yorkshire’s historic coalfields relied on handouts for 12 months while union leaders posed on the megaphones and failed to outwit the Thatcher government .
Painted in a corner
Where is Arthur Scargill now? A very good question! Live in a multi-million dollar penthouse in London’s trendy Barbican. And where are the brave miners he led to strike?
UK doesn’t work. It is not up to Sir Keir and Labor to resolve the current outbreak of industrial action.
But it’s crucial that they avoid being backed into a corner so this government can blame everyone but itself.
If Keir Starmer is to show voters are in safe and competent hands, he must confront union militancy.
In the 21st century, consumers and workers are one and the same. We in the Labor Party must recognize this indisputable truth.
https://www.the-sun.com/news/6043610/keir-starmer-militant-trade-unions-strikes/ Voters will not support Keir Starmer unless he can stop militant unions