AS any Londoner will know, 6 September saw the first of a series of 24-hour rolling strikes on the underground. Around 10,000 members of the RMT - the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers – and TSSA - Transport Salaried Staffs' Association – were involved.
Both the causes and immediate aftermath of this strike has already been extensively covered by Solidarity – see our articles London Underground Strike Looms (27/08/2010), London Underground: Further Strike News (27/08/2010), TfL Death Wish? (28/08/2010) and Will Boris Sit Down? (18/09/2010).
Unless future ACAS peace talks are successful, more 24-hour strikes are in the pipeline. This will mean further misery for the millions of people who rely on the tube everyday to get to and from work.
Solidarity supports the London Underground workers, but we are worried about one aspect of this industrial action. And that is the role of the media – sometimes known as the Fourth Estate.
With any strike, it’s essential to get over the point of view of the workforce. And any prolonged dispute really does need the understanding and support of the wider public.
In the short-term - if the strikes continue – Londoners will moan a little, shrug their shoulders, but generally accept the strikes. However, it won’t be long before the media winds itself into a frenzy. It will try to set one set of workers (the general public) against another set of workers (those on strike). It’s a familiar tactic – divide and conquer.
Already there are signs that this has become the agenda of one powerful section of the press.
Love it or loath it, the Sun is probably read by – and influences the thinking of - more British workers than any other paper. The statistics speak for themselves. According to Wikipedia:
“The Sun is a daily tabloid newspaper published in the United Kingdom and Ireland (where it is known as The Irish Sun) with an average circulation of 3,009,987 copies a day in August 2010, making it the biggest-selling newspaper in the UK. A separate Scottish Sun is published and printed in Glasgow with a circulation of about 344,000 copies daily (August 2010). The total daily readership is approximately 7,700,000.”
Worryingly, the Sun backed London Mayor Boris Johnson during the first strike. Its editorial on 7 September effectively classed every Underground worker as a ‘Leftie’ and a ‘Bully’.
As anyone who knows the background to this industrial action, those who went out on strike weren’t rabid ‘Lefties’ or ‘Bullies’ but ordinary men and women who are desperately concerned about jobs, wages, terms and conditions as well as safety issues.
(Although the RMT’s Bob Crow is a ‘Leftie’ - politically, he has described himself as a “Communist stroke socialist” - it’s absolutely ridiculous to suggest every member of the union is some sort of Marxist revolutionary.)
For a strike involving around 10,000 workers to be 100% solid shows the strength and depth of feeling amongst the workforce.
However, if further strikes are to get the support of the general public, then the trade union movement as a whole (and the RMT and TSSA in particular) have to devise ways to combat the power and influence of the likes of the Sun.