The Evening Standard (which, since it became a free-sheet, is read daily by countless London commuters) has been on a crusade recently to consistently outdo itself by publishing ever more vitriolic condemnation of any group of workers who have the temerity to object to cuts.
The tube workers and London firefighters have been a particular focus for their ire, and on November 9 Simon Jenkins took the opportunity of the recent BBC journalists’ strike to write a particularly vile piece denouncing all three groups of workers in one big go.
His article went beyond (or perhaps below) “normal” standards of “times are tough, maybe the cuts are bad but these workers should just put up with them”-type grumbling and reached new planes of shocking anti-working class venom.
Jenkins' argument, in brief, is that the firefighters', tube workers' and journalists' strikes are particularly outrageous because these workers are “better-off”, that they should refrain from striking (ever) and that they are “striking against all of us as taxpayers” rather than against their bosses. But Jenkins, an extremely well-paid journalist himself, can hardly be said to have much in common with “the poor”, who he claims are the strikes' main victims.
At one point, Jenkins sneers that the strikes are “not even about pay”. The hypocrisy is utterly staggering; if the strikes were straightforwardly related to pay disputes, there is no question that Jenkins would still be denouncing the greed and selfishness of workers who dared to demand more in these austere times.
Unfortunately, ideas like Jenkins' are not confined to opinion columns in detestable right-wing rags but are gaining wider currency. Many people oppose strikes on the bizarre basis that in the context of widespread cuts, there is some kind of moral obligation for everyone to level down to the level of the worst-paid and worst-treated. Workers striking to defend their hard-won pay, terms and conditions are castigated as greedy and selfish.
The labour movement has political duty to respond to this kind of ideological assault. Jenkins’ facts are extremely selective; while it is true that some Tube workers are paid well above the average working wage for the UK, many (lower grades of station staff and cleaners, for example) are paid distinctly less well.
But the more important point is that these workers should be congratulated for being “better-off”; they are better-off precisely because they have been well-organised and militant over a number of years and fought to win better conditions. Better-organised groups of workers must use their strength however they can to support the struggles of lower-paid and more highly-exploited workers, arguments like Jenkins' will be used as part of a moral and ideological offensive from the bosses and their media aimed at demoralising and dividing our class.
Our fight is not a narrow, selfish, sectional battle to preserve the “special” conditions of the “better-off” workers at the expense of the rest, but a fight to level everyone up to the conditions of the best-off!