Labour opinion: Strikes are a symptom not a cause, write Shaz Nawaz, Labour group leader

No one wants the present railway strike to take place, this includes the railway workers. Like most people who work, they want to do their job. Their industrial action is being treated as some sort of return to the 1970s. The Tories hope that you won’t look more deeply at the issues involved.

A deserted Peterborough Rail Station
A deserted Peterborough Rail Station

We are suffering through a cost-of-living crisis. This crisis has both global and local elements: for example, this government didn’t cause Russia to go to war in the Ukraine. Having said that, the acceptance of donations to the Conservative Party from Kremlin-linked individuals may have given Putin exaggerated confidence that his invasion of the Ukraine would be unopposed. The local elements are well known: a Brexit that increased red tape rather than reduced it, economic policies which have led to labour shortages, and a reluctance to do something about the cost of energy.

If people find their wages are not paying their bills, then what recourse do they have? What if management, in this case, a Conservative government that has been in charge for a dozen years, doesn’t listen nor engage in meaningful dialogue? If you are fortunate enough to be in a unionised workplace, then going on strike is one of the few options available to you. Most of us, admittedly, don’t have a union to help.

In other words, the strike is a symptom, not a cause of the cost-of-living crisis. One may not necessarily agree with the strike to understand why it is happening. What could have been a mild malady has been turned into an epidemic because the government doesn’t want to properly negotiate with the railway workers, and because its policies are not helping nearly enough to abate the crisis at hand.

If I were particularly cynical, I would observe the reaction of Conservative ministers and politicians to the strike and say that this was just the sort of fight they wanted to pick: an individual who wants to get to work but can’t, would like to know why and who is to blame. Clearly, the Conservatives would like you to forget on their insistence on returning to the office when home working appears to work well for many professions. They would also rather that you forgot about chronic underinvestment in transport that has happened on their watch. No, instead, they resort to tiresome narratives which attempt to unearth ghosts from nearly 50 years ago, in the hope that the frightening spectre of previous strikes will make the voter cling to the Tories out of fear.

This is nonsense. I would say it is cheap, except if we consider how much the Conservatives have cost the country not least in terms of the billions lost due to fraud, it is certainly very expensive. It is a strategy that capitalises on misery. And furthermore, when it fails to improve the lot of a single person who wants to get to work, it will prove ineffective.

There is one positive element to be taken out of this entire sorry episode: it shows the government is completely out of ideas. A government that has ideas looks for solutions rather than shifts the blame. The Conservatives only have the latter left to them. Time’s up.