The kingdom strikes back

First I was afraid...

I made it! I have witnessed my first ever British strike... For a French expatriate, it's like realising that there are Paul bakeries in Great Britain. It's like the first time you discover a bunch of Baby Bel in dairy aisle of your local Tesco. It feels a little bit like home.

We are so used to facing strikes in France that I was starting to feel slightly unsettled after three years in this country. Where were the Unions? No sign of angry Students willing to recall their parents' revolutionary protests. No burning tires or anti-CAP farmers uloading tons of sheep dungs in front of the Parliament. London was a quite place, the capitale of the Kingdom of social piece. Was until this week.

London was pretrified.

For two days, the main Union of Transport for London has imposed a strike to gain a salary increase for their members. Almost no tube were consequently navigating in the London underground. You had to opt for alternative transportation modes: buses, car, bike, your good old feet or for the lasiest, to work from home. Like every former Parisian I had also pulled my old roller-blades out the attic, just in case. As a matter of fact, in Paris, when TfL-equivalent RATP is on strike, there is no public transportation at all. So having the luxury to enjoy double-decker buses in sunny London was almost a treat. Almost.

Having to live without you by my strike

But these two days were also an experience. The opportunity to discover some new insights about the locals.

First, strikes are qualified as "industrial movements". I found this choice of vocabulary very interesting. Why "industrial"? By definition it would imply that the movement was produced by the industry, and yet public transportation is not an industry but a service. If I look further down the dictionary I can read that industrial is relating to a noisy, experimental genre of music that originated in the 1970s... Unless this refers to the noise of the vindicative crowd of underpaid tube staffs, I am not sure that I found a proper rational.

In France, we call these protests "mouvements sociaux", social movements. The reason is obviously that the protest are intended to ask for social benefits: pay rises, shorter weeks, subventions, more paid holidays, more bank holidays, more holidays, etc. Maybe it is in the History of each country that lays the solution of my riddle. France is the country of human rights. It is a democracy (from ancient Greek "dēmos" = "common people" and "kratos" = "rule, strength"). It gives the power to common people who can and should voice their opinion. On the other hand, the UK is the home of the successive industrial revolutions. Here lays its history, its own past glory... So that is maybe the reason these movements are refered to as "industrial": they remind the hard working people that we think we nowadays are that our ancestors have suffered for us. It may be some kind of a tribute?

The second learning is that in such abnormal conditions, the average Brit remains an average Brit. Although the BBC called these two days chaos or mayhem... Compared to past experiences, I can confirm that this was pure fun. The locals were waiting dilligently their bus, in well-ordered queues. The only people trying to sneak in were tourists and foreigners. And when the bus driver was announcing that there was too many people in the bus to take more on, the next people in the queue accepted the statement without shouting or insulting anybody. The only complaint I heard was about a football fan who would not be able to get to Wembley to see the national team slash Andora 4-0 that night. A well-ordered turmoil, as usual on this side of the Channel.

Every good thing has an end.

But tomorrow, Friday, business as usual. The tubes will be transporting their lot of workers across its underground network. "Mind the Gap" and "Keep your belongings at all time" will be repeated thousands of times to fellow travelers... I don't even know if the TfL staff got what they were protesting for. That is also the charm of such an amateur action: in France, were striking is a national sport, you would protest until you get what you want or at least part of it. And that means that a strike has a start but no set end... That is not the case here. We knew we were up for two days strikes, and we got two days, on the dot. As I said, a well-ordered turmoil.

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1 comment:

  1. By the way does anybody know where the strikers spend the two days?