Who are ‘the public’ ?

The current rail strike is the first major national industrial dispute for a decade, since the Public Sector anti-austerity strikes of 2011 which accounted for nearly 400,000 lost working days. Then, as now, the apparent victim was this illusionary concept of ‘the public’. Inconvenience it seems is the new terrorism.

The government’s response as always is a sledgehammer to crack a nut, including the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act passed last month to protect ‘them’, and threatening to bring in agency scabs to safeguard the perpetually vulnerable public. But who are this mass of inconvenienced victims?

Does it include the 115,000 workers in the rail industry? Or their half a million family members and dependents? What about The 1:6 using food banks? The millions choosing between rent and utilities? The vast populations of the sink estates with access to nothing but corner shops? The 6.5 million on hospital waiting lists?

Those who revile ‘Partygate’ recalling their sacrifices and lost friends and relatives and those dying for an ambulance? Those struggling to stay awake working in A&E or working in poverty as carers?Those who can never travel between two cities because it costs a week’s benefits and those who pay a small mortgage for a season ticket?

Grenfell survivors and the millions living in unsafe homes, or those for whom a home feels a distant dream? Those who struggle to pay the price of austerity, petty nationalism, profitable war in Europe, and endure the absence of protection at work. The poor, the workers, the working poor?

Cue the accusations of sabotaging an economy in recovery and holding the public to ransom. Soon there will be the interviews with inconvenienced commuters ‘struggling’ to get to work in the City of London telling us striking on the railways should be made illegal and the workers are already too well paid.

Meanwhile, strike ballots and militancy are increasing everywhere with the TUC itself saying that “Workers are on the front foot and taking employers on,” with more industrial conflict than at any time over the past five years as regularly reported through our publications and social media. There are currently over 300 official disputes logged by the TUC but local and wildcat actions are also breaking out. With all of this comes the question how many people are the passively idle ‘public’ being consequently inconvenienced?

The public ARE the revolting workers! Those who consume are also the robbed producers of wealth and profit. Each struggle at local or national level is a rebellion by the ‘public’ and its opinion is shifting. Each new action spreads solidarity, each victory brings hope as class struggle drags us back from the atomisation of wage labour and the isolation of covid towards a collective community demanding change.