Saturday, 14 April 2012

Passé? Why Sarah Malm is an idiot

A "passé" picket line at Shorfields, Liverpool
Writing for the Independent, journalism student Sarah Malm asks "how would you classify a group of people that take hostages to make themselves heard?" The answer, it appears, is "workers' unions." Thus begins one of the most appealing pieces of crap ever to pass itself off as political commentary.

Malm takes issue with the NUT and NASUWT in particular, over news that both have voted in favour of further coordinated strike action, starting with a one-day strike in June. Given their reasons for not going out on March 28, PCS are likely to follow suit - meaning that Malm presumably also has an issue with workers such as myself. Though, admittedly, strikes by civil servants give less opportunity to shriek "won't someone think of the children!"

So, what's the problem with the strike, then? "It is a selfish, disgraceful and, quite frankly, passé behaviour which has no place in a market economy, especially not one four years into a recession." In particular for parents, "strikes prevent hardworking people from putting food on their tables, they confine them to their homes and, yes, hold economic growth and opportunities hostage for all of us."

Just think of all those poor parents having to take a day off work or having to arrange care because their kids won't be in school. I mean, it's not like they're going to be given plenty of notice about it, is it? Or most employers will recognise the potential of the strike to affect their own workforce and make arrangements accordingly. Or there's such a thing as the right to time off when you need to look after a dependant. What do you mean this has happened twice in the past year alone and the world didn't end as a result of it?

Malm continues in much the same vein. What about "small business owners with no one to pile their workload on?" Because, obviously, the right of those who own capital (even a small amount) to exploit wage labour for profit is far more important than the right of those who have nothing to sell but their labour to withdraw it when their employer is taking the piss. You know how in your "six years working entry-level jobs" you had pretty shit conditions, "unlike you union workers"? That's cause you and your fellow workers weren't organised. Combining, exercising our labour power and - yes - "hold[ing] economic growth and opportunities hostage" is the reason why we have decent pay and conditions to defend in the first place.

It's also the reason that the working class more broadly has everything from the minimum wage to maternity leave. It's the reason that employers' disciplinary procedures are no longer part of criminal law. It's a reason that the government has such a long list when it looks at rolling back the gains made by the working class.

But it wasn't just our willingness to "stomp your feet," as you have it. It was the basic principle of support and solidarity for each other as a class. The teachers are actually a pretty good example of how an injury to one is an injury to all, because a driving motive behind pension reform is greater privatisation. In education, that means academies and free schools - which are bad for the kids who have to go to them and the parents with nowhere else to take them.

The parents of Shorefields School, in the Dingle, could understand that. That's why, when the teachers went on strike, parents and pupils joined the picket line in support of their "elfish, disgraceful and, quite frankly, passé behaviour." The levels of public support for the teachers strike - and, especially in cities like Liverpool, for pretty much every industrial action - show that they're far from alone in being able to grasp that basic principle of working class solidarity.

Malm clearly doesn't, though. Instead, she pours scorn and ridicule on those who dare to stand up for themselves against attacks from the bosses. She is almost as bad as a scab, and indeed will probably become one if pay and conditions in her own job come under attack. That is what's really "disgraceful, selfish and, quite frankly, passé."