I was on the picket line at UEL today and I was appalled by the numbers of students – presumably all of them members of the National Union of Students – who crossed the line. Even the self-styled, but disqualified president of UEL’s Student Union, Godwin Odusami, crossed the picket line. On that basis alone he should be disqualified, but I will save his other misdeeds for another blog. But let’s put it this way, anyone who hopes to be president of the Student Union needs to act in solidarity with members of those unions that are on strike. There is no excuse.
I managed to convince a couple of students that it was in their interests not to cross the line, but those who decided to do so came out with the most bizarre list of excuses that I have ever heard in my life. Some of the reasons given weren’t even logical. Many of them claimed that they were going to the library. Which reminds me, where were the library staff? Had they scabbed?
There is a serious lack of critical understanding of industrial action and the purpose and function of a picket line in the minds of many young people in this country. This is due, in no small part, to the constant lies told about unions and strikes in the Tory-dominated press. For these people, strikes are an “inconvenience to the public”. One student asked me “Why can’t you organize a petition”? Since when did a petition change anything? Another remarked on the apparent ineffectiveness of strike action but such questions are best met with a cool rebuttal that is based on historical materialism. Women’s suffrage, for example, would not have been possible without people taking action to change things. Slavery and Jim Crow laws might still be in place in the southern half of the United States.
I am always mystified by those people who cross picket lines during Tube strikes. They wait on lonely platforms for hours on end and for what? To say that they “defied the bolshie unions”? Their energies would have been better spent at home or doing the things that they wouldn’t ordinarily do while at work.
When unions go on strike in France, the majority of the media is often behind the striking workers. There is a clear understanding of why people resort to industrial action and why it is a legitimate political activity. In this country, the reverse is true and the media will present a narrative of individualism; how it affects you, the consumer, and how it impinges upon ‘your’ freedom. But such freedoms are imagined and when they are weighed against your right to collective bargaining in the workplace, they come in at a very poor second place.
There needs to an effort to educate many young people of the need for trade unions together with a drive to ram home the importance of solidarity. If we don’t, the only image of the picket line will be that of a grainy black and white photograph with the caption, “How we used to do things”.
I felt like reciting this to all those students who crossed the picket line
First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.