Yesterday, if you were in the centre of London, you saw evidence of the chaos that surrounds any industrial action around public transport. There were some buses, but not nearly enough of them for everyone to get to where they had to go. Because south London has no tube, if you live in that part of town you are heavily reliant on buses.
The poorer you are, the more this is the case. Also, many of the less financially well off across London rely on buses to get them to and from work due to this mode of transport being much more affordable than the tube. I happen to live in south London and so I was caught up in it all. But I’m lucky – I have two perfectly good legs and live close enough to make the walk from work tough but doable. Besides, even if that were not the case, I have the wherewithal to take a cab if needs be. What if I was a fifty-five-year-old with a bad back, trying to get to the shift at the supermarket I work in? My experience of employers at the lower end of the pay scale (and I actually have more experience here than I wish I had) is they tend not to be terribly forgiving of excuses like “My bus didn’t turn up”.
Having set this scene, this is what I’ll say: the bus drivers and the unions who represent them may have the right to strike. Whether the dispute in question was worthy of such action objectively, or the fact that only a tiny portion of unionised bus drivers actually supported the strike, I don’t want to discuss here. I’m simply saying that unions represent their members and take action they deem appropriate. If that was the way it was presented to us, I could live with it all.
But that’s not the way the unions tend to present these matters. I have no doubt there will be a union boss on television news this evening talking about how the strike was “sticking up for the poorest in our nation”. Which, let’s be frank now, is complete horseshit. The people who will be adversely affected by today’s strike, disproportionately, will be the poorest people in the city, people who have no way to get to the jobs they desperately need to keep to feed their families. So when I hear the “we are representing the poor and needy” line in these types of situations, it always greatly upsets me.
Like I say, if today’s strike was just presented in real terms, i.e. bus drivers think they deserve more dosh, fine. Just stop pretending the people you are actually making life harder for are the people you are supposedly doing it all for.