London Tube Strikes: Whatever Happened to the Right’s Hatred of the “Politics of Envy”?

One of the most common arguments levied against advocates of wealth redistribution and the higher taxation of the rich is that such an opinion is simply playing to the “politics of envy”. Unable to reconcile themselves with the idea that those CEOs receiving 130 more than their average employee may deserve such exorbitant pay packets, the left wishes to jealously condemn their hard-earnt money to the taxman. Or so the argument goes. People on the right, however, accept that if you are earning a certain salary, it’s because the market has prudently decided that that is your worth, and so it is the government’s job to interfere at little as possible. Well done you, all you high earners.

This makes the current right-wing coverage of the London Underground strikes- occurring in light of a dispute over working conditions in the new Night Service being introduced- a little curious. Trade unions are now an accepted feature of the landscape of our economy, even Sajid Jarvis, the Conservative minister for business, has officially stated that they have a “constructive role”. As a corollary of this, so too the principle tool for achieving the objectives of a trade union, in this age bereft of processes such as collective bargaining, must be accepted: the strike. A successful strike is simply a mechanism through which the market reevaluates the worth of a worker or group of workers, and therefore is as much as part of our economic structure as extortionate rents in London or bonuses dealt out in the City. If the strikers achieve a settlement which grants them a higher salary or better conditions (another indication of the worth of the worker) then well done them, surely?

But no. Instead, the Daily Mail has provided its readers with a helpful infographic illustrating how much better-off Tube drivers than London bus drivers, firefighters, nurses, soldiers and police officers even before the strike. It emphasises how Boris Johnson thinks “most people” would regard what the strikers are being offered as “a very generous deal”. The Daily Telegraph is running a similar piece, this time with the aid of a chart to show how lucky the those manning the Underground should consider themselves. These articles are not designed to congratulate the London Tube drivers on their success in obtaining more holiday and higher wages (if anything, the statistics used are misleading as they only indicate starting salaries and do not account for promotion prospects or the cost of living in London). Their objective is to whip up anger against the public, to make them wish to see the greedy strikers brought down a peg and the rally support for the government’s bill to bring the perfidious unions even closer to heel. In short, they are playing the politics of envy, asking ordinary working people to look at other ordinary working people and damn them for their ‘success’. Heaven forbid should anyone in the Mail or Telegraph suggest that “most people” should perhaps think that such ‘success’ could be also obtainable for them.

Meanwhile, they are silent about the executives and stockbrokers cursing the strikers as they make their slow way through a gridlocked London to the centre-point of where all the economic turmoil of our current times started.


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