Cultural baggage

Bob ShandOh, the holiday horror. Oh, the humanity. Baggage handlers at a major British airport are going to strike on the bank holiday, inconveniencing some travellers. In tones of despair and horror, commentators and airline representatives told the shocking story of how nice, middle class people would be, well… delayed a bit, if strike action went ahead. Not since the Ethiopian famine have I felt such weeping, raw, empathy.

Obviously this does suck for some passengers who’ve saved for ages. But I do find it hard to take seriously the airlines’ repeated cries of ‘for shame!’ at unions for taking the action on behalf of workers whose pay rises will not keep up with inflation. One Communications-Guy from Ryanair actually said that he thought it ridiculous that in 2008 people might still have to face delays.

I know. Millions of years of evolution/intelligent-design, thousands of years refining civilisation, and people still have to wait hours to get wasted on free (well, not on Ryanair) airline booze. I mean, seriously, if we can produce antiretrovirals at an affordable price for Africa, if we can put a man on the moon, surely we can find a cure for trades unions?

We’re only about a week away from celebrating the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream‘ speech. Perhaps big business could elect a spokesperson to deliver an updated one. A speech that inspires people to seek a world where low-paid workers do not have the right to use the only power they have (their strength of numbers) to demand better wages, better working conditions, a bigger slice of the pie so eagerly devoured by those at the top. After all, as the Ryanair spokesman said, times are tight. Why should shareholders and directors forego their luxury cars and third homes? What we need is more of that Blitz spirit, particularly from the poor. The rich understand only too well that those dividends won’t spend themselves, that somebody has to take those overseas holidays. It’s time the workers started pulling their weight and being properly poor, like in the old days. And liking it.

I jest, of course. Bitterly. The fact is that first-world society has become so selfish that it genuinely finds any inconvenience hard to understand. And the attitude is not limited to the rich, either (no matter how much my ideology wishes it was). Today, we all expect ridiculous levels of ease and luxury. As Tom Wolfe put it, even the first world’s ‘working class’ has for years enjoyed a life that ‘would have made the Sun King blink’. And we’ve all come to expect it. Food prices that reflect the amount of work in producing it? Unacceptable. Borrowing less? No way.

And Christians are every bit as conformed to the philosophy. Last week we saw the ‘Pray at the Pump‘ movement in the States encouraging motorists to pray for lower fuel costs. Because even Christians have forgotten that we are not the centre of the universe. In church we sing self-centred songs about how good it is to have such a fantastic relationship with Jesus and then we walk out and live our lives accordingly, sincerely hoping we will get the opportunity to lead someone into a similarly self-obsessed faith. We are conformed to our society, even in our spirituality, more than we like to admit.

And then we all act surprised when Russia uses Georgian violence and aggression as an excuse to gain more influence for itself. As if post communist Moscow has not been watching us, our lifestyles, with envy, and learning valuable lessons about what the world, Christians included, will accept in the name of self-interest.

Here’s an excellent video about unions. Most amusing. Some strong language.

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