Is Britain leftist? Ask a postman.

from socialistworker.co.uk

We’ve won! The Lefties and pinko liberals have finally taken over. You could tell by the reaction, last week, to the news that BNP chief-wizard, Nick Griffin, was going to appear on Question Time. Beyond the predictable lefty activist reactions, ordinary, mainstream people actually got involved. And properly freaked out. Radio phone-ins, blogs, newspaper columns and office coffee-points resounded to the sound of otherwise apolitical middle-classers denouncing the BNP in ways that made Joe Public sound suspiciously like George Galloway.

But never fear, oh conservative (or, indeed, Conservative) reader. Britain has not descended into liberalism or fallen into the arms of Marxist ideology. The vision of leftism sweeping the nation last week was just a mirage, a conscience-salving display by a populace that, like a grown-up hippie with a mortgage, likes to think of itself as a bit of a lefty more than actually behaving like one.

Because just as left-leaning newspapers produced posters making fun of how small Nick Griffin’s brain is (embarrassing) and right-leaning tabloids denounced his racism (hypocritical), the nation’s media showed its true political colours while covering last week’s strike action by Royal Mail staff in the Communication Workers Union – and those colours were not varying shades of red. Ordinarily impartial interviewers took for granted the belief that strike action in itself is a damaging, unreasonable and negative phenomenon. Otherwise intelligent commentators with a sense of proportion referred to their having to wait a week for internet hardware (delayed by the strike) as ordinary people’s ‘suffering’. And perhaps most remarkable of all, the Tories and Labour seemed to be pretty much on the same side: in opposition to the strikers.

Photo from socialistunity.com

The question is: why? It’s not like the nation has been crippled by strike after strike, causing constant upheaval to our lives. Royal Mail workers are not the bullies in this situation, either. They are overworked and facing privatisation (disguised as ‘modernisation’) which always means job-losses and a worse deal for both workers and consumers. The only power they have is in acting together. It’s not like the claims of government ministers and Royal Mail bosses of falling mail volumes are true (an excellent exposé of unilateral adjustments of figures and fiddling of statistics by bosses was published a week or two back in the London Review of Books and makes for fascinating reading) or even logical (can you say eBay? Amazon? Junk mail? Post ‘sent’ by ‘outside contractors’ that’s still ultimately delivered by Royal Mail posties?) It is just that the zeitgeist at the moment is pretty right-wing when it comes to strikers.

The reasons why could be debated in a whole book. But whether they are our sense of entitlement (outraged whenever we are even slightly put out), our culture’s hostility to those who seem ‘too political’ (as if that could somehow be a bad thing in a democracy) or just our subconscious belief that ‘the workers’ should be glad for whatever they get, because ‘beggars can’t be choosers’, Christians have a choice. We can go with the flow, side with the spirit of the present moment and accept, uncritically, the attitudes and viewpoints in which we are immersed. Or we can think for ourselves, applying God’s values, rather than those of the market or our privileged class, to issues in the news – hopefully siding with justice, mercy and the poor, rather than the forces of selfishness and expediency.

This originally appeared in The Baptist Times, under a different title.

Here’s a lovely video by Die Krupps about making a choice against fascism:

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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.