"Cynicism"? No, Fighting To Win

Posted in Off The Rails's blog on Wed, 04/01/2017 - 20:52,

As workers on Southern prepare to strike again in defence of the role of the guard, that paragon of rational commentary The Evening Standard has a shrill article denouncing our strategy as "utter cynicism".

They complain that three strike days have been planned selectively, to spread their impact over a full week. Might they would prefer us to strike at times when no-one notices, when it affects nobody? No, of course, they'd prefer us not to strike at all.

The spluttering outrage that working-class asserting ourselves in any way always provokes in Tories, to whom papers like the Standard are loyal, is a timeless certain. Only today, Nicholas Soames took to Twitter to warn of the strike's “catastrophic consequences” (a phrase better suited to the bombing of Aleppo than cancelled trains), and accuse us of “economic vandalism”.

It's not the timing of our strikes they really object to, it's the fact we're standing up for ourselves at all.

What does the Standard think the point of a strike is? We don't relish the inconvenience caused to passengers by our strikes, but withdrawal of labour is our only really effective means of applying pressure to our bosses. The more impacting our action, the more pressure they're under. Hence the decision to strategically schedule strikes.

A strike is not merely, or should not be, a protest. It is a means to an end: the aim is to win.

Our unions' strategies in this dispute haven't been perfect. For example, we're bemused as to why Aslef rescheduled its next action in such a way that means it now doesn't coincide with a strike of station staff on London Underground. This is a missed opportunity to coordinate two disputes. And we're not sure about Aslef General Secretary Mick Whelan's remarks on why a planed six-day strike was scaled back to three days: he says the union was “listening to concerns of the travelling public that a week of strikes may be considered to be disproportionate”. Dynamiting sections of the railway would probably be "disproportionate"; striking for a week seems entirely sensible to us.

But, on the whole, both RMT and Aslef have been absolutely right to announce ongoing and selective strikes, scheduled to maximise their impact. Crucially, whole programmes of strikes, sometimes stretching over months, have been announced at once, rather than striking for a day or two then waiting and seeing. Ongoing programmes of action let both the bosses and union members know we're in this to win.

It is thought unfashionable to talk in terms of class struggle, but the dispute on Southern shows clearly that bosses and workers are simply not on the same side. We don't have shared interests. The relationship between employers and the employed is fundamentally based on conflict. They have their weapons: job cuts, pay cuts, restructuring, outsourcing. And we have ours: most fundamentally, the strike. Using it in the most effective way possible is not “cynicism”, it's good sense.

This isn't a sporting contest. It's not the taking part that counts. This is war. And we aim to win.

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