The most disappointing thing about all the strike action last week – apart from the fact that bosses made sure it had to happen in the first place – was the reaction of a large number of members of the public. We don’t blame them, of course – The Man has made sure that everyone’s instant, unthinking reaction to a strike is to blame the strikers – but it makes us sad that The Man’s work has been done so thoroughly.
What is most worrying is that the public will trot out the ridiculous lies that the right-wing press feed us as if they were fact. So it was really refreshing to read Richard Seymour in the Guardian, who exposed a couple of things about the firefighters’ strike that those who buy into everything the Daily Mail tells you really need to know.
James O’Brien, at the generally gruesomely right-wing London radio station LBC, received an anonymous email from City Hall, which outlined just how desperate the fire bosses were. Brian Coleman and his cronies had concluded that they had to win the dispute before 5 November, and so instructed their PR company to “unleash the forces of hell” on firefighters. Which they’ve done. The right-wing press ate it up, printing the lies about £10,000 pa pay demands and absurd percentages of firefighters working second jobs and living abroad. The whole thing was orchestrated by the bosses.
Now no one who reads the right wing press believes this kind of thing happens. Read, for example, Seamus Milne’s The Enemy Within, one of the most meticulously researched books on industrial relations that we’ve read. You can take any of the things he exposes in there about how the NCB and the Thatcher government indulged in dirty tricks during the Miners’ Strike, and show them to people who read the right-wing press, and they will not believe a word of it. They will accuse you of being ideological.
That is how entrenched this stuff is, comrades. The Fire Authority hired a PR company to spread lies about the firefighters and their demands. The PR company spread the lies. The right-wing press printed the lies. That diverted attention away from the private firm of under-trained firefighters that had been called in as scab labour to cover the planned strike. The public turned on the firefighters and called them irresponsible, greedy and workshy. The FBU lost its nerve, and called the strike off.
All because the bosses had a good PR firm who were ready to spread a whole pack of lies about honest, hard-working people.
Then Alan Davies, off of the telly, was going to stand in for Danny Baker on his radio show on Saturday, in the middle of the NUJ strike at the BBC. Now, as you know, Comrade Baker is currently going through all manner of gruesome treatment for cancer. Comrade Davies, whose comradely credentials were so superbly laid out in his Alan Davies’ Teenage Revolution on Channel 4 the other week, pulled out of covering Danny’s show because he wouldn’t cross a picket line.
Now, we can’t find any evidence that Comrade Baker has ever crossed a picket line. He certainly didn’t in 2005. And Comrade Davies clearly isn’t a picket line crosser. So this is easy. Everyone’s happy. Everyone is doing the right thing.
Except they’re not, apparently. Those of you who kept an eye on Davies’s twitter feed over the weekend will know that he had to put up with messages like this: keeper9 @alandavies1 seriously? You put a strike over stepping in to help a man with a critical illness? and fiatpanda @alandavies1 Surprised that you find it so easy to choose union solidarity over support for a man with cancer. Nice job. and this SiTheTallGuy Decided to unfollow @alandavies1. That tweet about not crossing NUJ picket line to do Danny Baker’s show confirms he’s a dick. Sorry.
Yes. Apparently Comrade Davies not crossing a picket line to cover a show that there is no evidence Comrade Baker would have done either, under strike conditions, is tantamount to him refusing to administer life-saving treatment. Baker didn’t suffer here. The BBC management suffered. And rightly. Alan Davies followed one of the most important principles we can have, as working people.
Disappointingly, Suggs did the show instead.
Fact is, there has been a huge culture shift. Striking seems to be seen as an individual act of selfishness. Refusal to cross a picket line seems to be seen as an individual act of selfishness. We have become so used to assuming that the motivation behind everything is an individual act of selfishness – thanks to this culture of bellum omnium inter omnes that capitalism has introduced us to – that even age-old moments of solidarity are somehow spun as individual self-interest.
This is what we keep saying, brothers and sisters. The fightback is not just about economic or political power. The fightback is cultural. Until these ridiculous attitudes are successfully challenged and changed, this movement’s going nowhere.
Comrade Terry Eagleton once said this: “Your thought is ideological, his is redneck, but mine is deliciously supple.” There is, as he is pointing out, no escape from ideology. It forms our thinking in so many ways. But make sure the ideology you employ is in line with your real interests. There were NUJ members sending twitter messages to BBC scabs congratulating them on defying the pickets. NUJ members! A trade unionist with Daily Mail attitudes? That’s where ideology is not in line with interests.
Culture war. We’re in one. Don’t ignore it. Fight it. You know which side you’re on. Don’t sell your consent.