Tube Strikes and Dairy Deals – Solidarity or Subsidy?

So RMT (Rail, Maritime and Transport Union) and TSSA (Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association) have announced another two days of tube strikes to take place later this month. This is following on from last month’s day-long disruption and other recent actions to do with the introduction of the ‘night tube’ and a threat to station jobs.

We should say thank you. Thank you to the drivers, station staff and the rest of them, for standing up for themselves.

Too often today we’re told, as Margaret Thatcher used to put it, ‘There is No Alternative’ (TINA). These two transport unions sees things differently. But compare this with the deal, announced on the same day as the tube workers’ strike action, between the NFU (National Farmers’ Union) and Morrisons. The supermarket chain has agreed to top-up the price of milk to stop farmers going out of business. A new brand called Milk for Farmers will mean that for every litre sold in the latter’s stores farmers will receive 10p.

Why should consumers subsidise dairy farmers? We might be sympathetic to their situation, but we don’t owe them a living and the industry can’t survive indefinitely on charity. There’s a difference between workers acting collectively to demand a better deal or to protect themselves, as RMT and TSSA are doing; and an already state-subsidised industry seeking further subsidies from consumers, as the farmers’ union is doing.

There’s also a difference between withdrawing your labour and walking-out of your job and walking a couple of cows through the aisles of Asda in the hope of gaining some media-fuelled attention. But even real workers – are farmers really workers in a selling-their-labour kind of way? – seem more interested in gaining our sympathy than taking on their employers. For instance, care workers, particulary home care workers who look after the most basic of everyday care needs for elderly and disabled people in their own homes, are famously put-upon.

This is typical from a care worker in a letter to the Guardian:

Yesterday, I started work at 7.30am and finished at 5pm, then I worked a 10pm to 7am night shift. I washed and dressed people, cleaned up their urine, their faeces and their homes … [O]ne day someone will tell me they pay their cleaner £12 an hour and it will be the final straw.

We are rarely asked to express our solidarity with our fellow workers these days – otherwise there’d be a lot more support for the two days of strike action. Instead we are expected to emote and show how badly we feel for the poor and downtrodden. But this cannot be relied upon. Should the public really feel sorry for farmers over-milking their plight as much as their cows, or for contracted-out care workers who demand our pity but are, rightly or wrongly, held responsible for poor and neglectful care amongst their number?

That’s why I’m on the side of the relatively well paid and assertive tube workers. They have earned my respect (without courting it) and inspire a confidence in the capacity of ordinary people to shape their working lives. The travelling public should not grumble about the temporary inconvenience of longer journeys to and from work. Shake them by the hand. By defending their own interests and striving for more for themselves, they are standing up for us all. Good on ’em I say!

First published in Huffington Post