If a strike turns you into a Tory, you probably were one anyway

If a strike turns you into a Tory, you probably were one anyway

In the Guardian, Jonathan Jones laments that workers standing up for themselves is getting in the way of him looking at art. Here are five reasons why he’s talking out of his arse and you should support the strikers.

1. Workers don’t lose pay just for the hell of it

Jonathan Jones wrote:
Could it possibly be that the real ideologue here is not Nicholas Penny, the retiring National Gallery director who writes books about Raphael, but Mark Serwotka, the avowedly politicised union leader who speaks alongside Corbyn?

In anti-union polemics, it’s standard practice to heap the blame on ‘union barons’ such as Serwotka for dragging members out on strike and holding the public hostage. But it’s not the truth – the workers themselves vote whether to strike, and they’re hardly going to support action if they see no reason too.

The difference with Jones’s article is that he actually takes a moment to link to another piece arguing why the staff should be supported. Presuming he’s actually read it, he should know that National Gallery workers are not only fighting privatisation, which brings with it the threat of worsening pay and conditions and reduced job security as well as taking something out of state ownership, but have also won the living wage in the course of their campaigning.

Looking deeper, he might also see that the Gallery have victimised a trade union rep. Candy Udwin was sacked for raising questions over privatisation, and a hearing has already ruled that a tribunal is likely to find that she was unfairly dismissed for carrying out her trade union duties. Reinstatement of Candy is also a vital part of this campaign.

To suggest that Serwotka somehow engineered all of this as a ‘cynical flexing of muscle,’ attributes to him Machiavellian influence he simply doesn’t possess. It also robs the workers themselves of their agency, and that’s the fundamental point – the rank-and-file PCS members at the Gallery have driven this fight. Not their General Secretary.

2. There is no justification for a race to the bottom

Jonathan Jones wrote:
Is the National Gallery really the worst employer, the most extreme provocation, among all the public service contexts in which PCS members work? I can’t help suspecting it is much easier to pick a fight with this gentle temple of the arts than it would be with government departments and the civil services.

Again, the workers at the National Gallery are in charge of this dispute, so why they’d demand strikes at somewhere they don’t work is a mystery.

Then there’s the fact that there have been and are ongoing PCS disputes in the civil service. Take the strike over Universal Credit working conditions as just one recent example.

But, beyond all that, why should workers only fight their bosses if they’re the very worst off? How on earth does somebody else possibly being treated worse justify you being treated badly? This is the worst kind of spurious bollocks, and all it does is justify a race to the bottom. Instead of looking to the worse off and letting ourselves be pushed down to that level workers should be looking to the best off and demanding to be raised up alongside them.

Without apology.

3. Our power to disrupt is how we win

Jonathan Jones wrote:
how is the union’s avowed desire to “defend the functions of a national institution”, in Serwotka’s words, served by closing many of its galleries to visitors for 52 days so far, with worse disruption to come? It’s nonsense to claim the staff are putting the art first if they stop people from seeing it. The visitors being affected are kids in the summer holidays, as well as visitors who come from all over Britain and the world – a lot of ordinary people being denied the chance to see great art.

This should be obvious.

Bosses don’t listen to workers because they’re reasonable people if only we make the right arguments. They don’t attack our conditions having carefully weighed up all the options and decided that their course is the best one for the common interest of employer and worker alike. They do it because they can, and because they profit from it.

Our answer to that is our collective power to make that attack more costly and more disruptive than any other option. Strikes aren’t a protest or a statement, they’re direct action – a barrier in the way of the employer getting their own way at our expense. And they work.

4. There’s a bigger picture

Jonathan Jones wrote:
I’ve never voted anything but Labour in my life. Can’t you at least let me alone when I’m looking at Titian? I have to be a socialist in the museum now? Is it blacklegging to look at Leonardo?

We’ll leave aside the ridiculous notion that there’s a link between voting Labour and being a socialist. Or that you can claim to really hold principles if you can shrug them off like a coat. (“Well, yes, normally I’d try and stop a mugger from attacking you. But can’t you see I’m in the middle of a good book? Come on, now!”)

What matters here is that this dispute isn’t about whether you’re able to visit the museum at one specific time. Is it more disruptive to not be able to visit a museum during strike action to prevent privatisation, or to have all future visits affected by the owners putting profit first rather than culture? Is it worse if rooms are closed down for a short period during the struggle or if certain rooms are shut forever because business needs dictate it?

For an opponent of “crass philistinism,” Jones sure is fond of putting his immediate, individual wants over a longer term benefit for everyone.

5. A win for one is a win for all

Jonathan Jones wrote:
I don’t think this is just a struggle for rights. I think it is a chance for Serwotka’s union to throw its weight about. I didn’t think that before the election, but I seriously suspect it now that anti-austerity ideologues in the trade union movement are about to put the Labour party out of power for much of my lifetime and all of my daughter’s youth.

Whether or not the Labour Party is out of power is of no bearing here, and was most likely thrown in because Jones wasn’t sure whether to write a piece decrying this strike or decrying Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership bid and decided to do half of each. But the point about unions throwing their weight around is telling.

Unions should throw their weight around. Workers ought to challenge the bosses where they can and stand up for their collective interests. If the bosses can get away with attacks, rolling back terms and conditions, reducing pay, privatisation, or victimising union reps in one place then they feel emboldened to do it everywhere.

But if the workers can win, driving up pay and conditions and resisting attacks, then it is our class who feel emboldened to advance. We put the bosses on the back foot, and a race to the bottom shifts to a race to the top.

If that means some poor sap like Jonathan Jones can’t look at Titian for a short while, and has to think about politics beyond just his passive act of democratic participation every five years, then so be it. The only one to shed any tears over that will be him.

Donate to the National Gallery strike fund here.

Comments

Chilli Sauce
Aug 5 2015 20:06

Yup, good as always.

Just to add on point one, anyone who's ever gone on about union bosses "calling workers out on strike" or any other such bollocks has never been actively involved in a union. Every strike I've ever been involved in or supported has had to have been organised by lay reps and members on the ground. At best, the union hierarchy has been a meddling impediment. At worst, they actively discouraged and interfered with effective strike action.

Steven.
Aug 5 2015 22:44
Chilli Sauce wrote:
Yup, good as always.

Just to add on point one, anyone who's ever gone on about union bosses "calling workers out on strike" or any other such bollocks has never been actively involved in a union. Every strike I've ever been involved in or supported has had to have been organised by lay reps and members on the ground. At best, the union hierarchy has been a meddling impediment. At worst, they actively discouraged and interfered with effective strike action.

Exactly right.

I've seen exactly the same in the media coverage about the tube strike today and tomorrow

Chilli Sauce
Aug 6 2015 04:53

Quote away, my friend. Although, re-reading that, my grammar really is pretty shit for an English teacher wink

Entdinglichung
Aug 6 2015 09:36

https://www.vice.com/en_uk/read/sam-kriss-tube-strike-july-2015-633

Quote:
You need to waste time in an office, rather than at home, or else you're no better than a scrounger. You hate the strikers because they terrify you; they're a nauseating reminder that it's still possible to have some freedom in your life, that there are things you could fight for. So you go on Twitter to say that they should all be sacked (or, preferably, shot), because you'd rather hide in a cubicle than look yourself squarely in the eye.
Jacques Roux
Aug 6 2015 12:12

Thanks for this.

That Vice piece smashes it as well...

Quote:
There's a kind of measly, pathetic ingratitude to all this that's absolutely unique to the British. In any other country they'd at least recognise that the inconvenience is worthwhile. Not here. The Tube strikers are trying to help you, and you spit poison in their faces. You don't deserve this strike.
Quote:
omen
Aug 6 2015 19:13

Normally I stay well away from reading the comments on news sites* (which I tend to regard as something like bobbing for apples in a sewer) but this bit of comment bait in the Vice article lured me into taking a peek:

Sam Kriss at Vice wrote:
But you're far too eager to safely bury yourself in a big ugly building with people you despise, so you can waste your day finding out what kind of pug BuzzFeed thinks you are, or hammering your frankly worthless opinions into the comment boxes below VICE articles.

While there are certainly plenty of wankers in the comments, many are actually quite good!

A few highlights:

Alex Templar wrote:
One of the reasons they have good pay and working conditions is because they have a union and stand up for themselves collectively. One of the reasons that youre pottering down the bottom on 15k is that everyone moaned so much about the unions that they got fucked and now everyone gets paid pittance so some cunt in a suit can move numbers around on a screen for a mil a year. Wake the fuck up mate.
Anna Stoilova wrote:
Thanks to the tube strike I had a 2.5 hour meaningful conversation with a taxi driver regarding life, relationship and sex. He said he is going to remember me for 6 years. That made my day. (Seriously thanks, I am not being sarcastic!)
Karl Jansson wrote:
I met a clown earning 700 pounds a day by making spreadsheets for a bank, so I think the tube drivers deserve what they get. But I deserve much more than I get in my shit job too...

Most of the predictably negative comments could be answered with this one:

Ed Evans wrote:
that's a deeply shit comment.

One of the stupider comments being:

Alexander James Downer wrote:
If a train driver falls asleep, his hand will fall off the dead man switch and the train will stop moving. There will be no train inferno so stop fear mongering

* Present company excepted.

Anarcho
Aug 8 2015 11:32
Chilli Sauce wrote:
Just to add on point one, anyone who's ever gone on about union bosses "calling workers out on strike" or any other such bollocks has never been actively involved in a union. Every strike I've ever been involved in or supported has had to have been organised by lay reps and members on the ground. At best, the union hierarchy has been a meddling impediment. At worst, they actively discouraged and interfered with effective strike action.

That has been my experience as well -- the headquarter-based officials come in and give us even more hoops to jump through before we even get to where the anti-union laws start to apply.

In my union, we need to get a motion passed at the whole branch level, then we need to show that we have branch-wide support, then we have to write a "failure to agree" letter, then meet with management, then if those talks don't work then we get allowed to hold a ballot. Meanwhile, management get on with imposing their decisions, etc...

Unfortunately, members don't feel empowered enough to take unofficial action -- or even to turn up a meetings! As a union rep, I find that frustrating as I'm trying to get as much self-management as possible!