Christ at the Picket Line

After years of austerity, a workforce battered by the Covid-19 pandemic and the ever-looming threat of the cost-of-living crisis, workers in this country are desperate for change. Despite multiple requests to the big companies to increase pay, their requests have fallen on deaf ears. Left with no other choice, workers up and down the country are using the last resource at their disposal: to stop working and strike.

While strikes are far from a new phenomenon in this country, the range of sectors that are coming out on strike proves how widespread the problem is. While most of the media attention has focused on the ongoing train and postal strikes, strikes have been announced by everyone from barristers to bin collectors. Overwhelmingly, these strikes have been successful. According to Unite the Union, since August 2021 they have been involved in 221 disputes with a success rate of 81% in favour of increased pay. UCU (the union which represents academics and university staff) have recently announced that 85.71% of their members are willing to strike for better pay and work conditions.

When all of this unrest is happening, it is very easy to aim our anger towards the striking workers rather than the companies that they work for. How dare they cause all of this public disruption! Do they not know that we have to get to work, that we have lectures? However, the reason these workers are striking is to make a point. When these workers stop providing their services, we realise how invaluable they are for society to function and how justified their demands are. It is not right that workers on zero-hours contracts are struggling to pay for rent, or that nurses are choosing between heating their homes or feeding their children. They are desperate and need to be heard. 

Once we start to understand the reasons behind these strikes, the way in which we should respond as Christians becomes much clearer. In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he writes: 

“for as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another” (Romans 12:4-6)

To me this phrase has resonances of an old trade union movement chant, “an injury to one is an injury to us all”. If we are one body in Christ, then when one part of our body is injured we cannot ignore it. We must acknowledge the pain, look to heal it so we can become stronger.

So, how can we as Christians respond to these strikes? Well, here are a few ideas:

  1. Talk to people about these strikes

It is very likely that there will be someone in your life who is affected by these strikes, whether it be your friends or your lecturers. Talk to them about their working conditions. How do they feel about the strikes?

  1. Standing on a picket line

Speaking from personal experience, I can attest to how inspiring being on a picket line can be. People hold banners, share food, sometimes even sing songs! Perhaps you and a group of SCM members could go to a picket line together with some flasks of tea. It can mean the world when people show up in solidarity.

  1. Avoid crossing a picket line

Sometimes it is unavoidable that you have to take a train. But before getting on the train, see if there is a bus running instead. If you’re meeting up with someone, could you do an online meeting?

These are just a few things you can do, but these small gestures make a huge difference for striking workers. Gustavo Gutierrez, one of the founding thinkers of liberation theology once wrote “if I define my neighbour as the one I must go out to look for, on the highways and byways, in the factories and slums, on the farms and in the mines—then my world changes.” If Gutierrez is right, then Christ won’t be in the meetings where bosses are worrying about their Christmas bonuses. Christ will be standing on the picket line with a flask and banner, asking you to join him.