Today marks the start of a three-day walkout by British Airways cabin crew. The dispute surrounds attempts by chief executive Willie Walsh to impose crippling changes to the terms and conditions of staff and, essentially, create a two-tier workforce. Despite this, and perhaps even against the will of its membership, the Unite union has offered compromise at every turn. They even offered a pay cut as part of a proposed package which would still allow for savings whilst avoiding job losses. Despite all this, Walsh has demonstrated his determination to go to war with the union, refusing compromise at every step.
This might come as a surprise to those who follow the news. In line with the expectations of the propaganda model, viewers and readers have not been informed that Walsh - earning £740,000 per year - is trying to impose pay freezes and job losses on staff whose starting rate is £11,000 a year and of whom 70% earn less than £20,000 a year (BA Strike: the facts - PDF). Instead, they are told that the strike "disrupts thousands of passengers," and treated to sob-stories such as that of people who booked their honeymoon through BA.
The less-than-subtle message, of course, being that those strikers are such nasty, inconsiderate people and that we should have sympathy with the bosses trying to crush their workers' spirits. This whilst the Prime Minister (of a Labour government, those not yet utterly cynical about electoral politics should note) denounces the strikes as "deplorable" and the opposition party describes his response as "feeble," saying he lacks the "backbone" to do what is neccesary - i.e. destroy the ability of the working class to resist being utterly fucked over by the bosses.
A similar level of shameless propaganda prevailed in the recent civil service strikes. It is no wonder that, their class consciousness diminished, there are workers who believe the lies of the bosses and are refusing to strike.
When such people say that they are unaffected by the cause, the "I'm alright Jack" mentality, they are living in a dreamworld. As workers, we are all under attack as the ruling class try to increase and solidify their positions of power and privilege at our expense. Citing the "current economic climate" is nonsense, as this is precisely what motivates employers to increase their offensive. And pointing out that a group of workers' conditions is (allegedly) better than that of others elsewhere is akin to a parent saying "there are starving kids in Africa" as a way to get them to throw their food in the bin. Yes, some workers have it better than others in varying circumstances. But that should be a motivation for the worse off to organise and fight to better their position, not for the better off to also capitulate to the class war.
During an industrial action, it is simply not possible to remain neutral. When workers cross picket lines, they are acting to undermine the economic power of their fellow workers. And whilst these scabs are sucking up to the employer, thinking that they will be better off for it, the employer is engaged in a class war that will affect the scabs just as adversely as the strikers.
Unfortunately, not enough people are aware of this reality. With the BA strike action just beginning, further civil service action coming this Wednesday, and the class war intensifying everywhere, there needs to be a greater effort to educate people on class and solidarity. If we can do that, then we can lay the foundation from which to build a mass-based, radical movement against capitalism.