The “Work to Rule” Maneuver He had Been Train-ing For

If you look at this photo carefully, then you're on track towards understanding the central pun of this article.

If you look at this photo carefully, then you’re on track towards understanding the central pun of this article.

Joining other posts on this site (here and here) dedicated to one person who decided to make a difference, here’s this:

More than 100 train passengers were left stranded in Spain after the driver decided to down tools and disappear when his shift ended.

“The driver said he had finished his work shift and there was no substitute, so he stopped the train and got off,” a spokesman for the Civil Guard police force said.

One of the 109 abandoned passengers said they were told the train had stopped for technical reasons.

“Then 15 minutes later they said the driver had decided to stop because he had gone over his limit,” the passenger told local newspaper El Diario Montañés.

First off, I wouldn’t blame anyone for thinking this guy is a little selfish. Sure it sucks to work more but leaving over 100 people stranded just so you can give the middle finger to your boss seems a bit short-sighted. On the other hand, it clearly made a splash (you can also find this story here) and maybe this will result in some changes.

It’s hard to say, especially since the articles I’m linking are just Telling The Facts and not interested in whether what he did was right or wrong or whether this will result in better long-term service. Thankfully(?) I’m here to offer my own two cents which was never asked for and likely never shall be.

Generally speaking, making the public suffer for your own personal grievances, like I said, can come off as selfish. But there’s also the fact to consider that we all need to take care of ourselves and when the workplace we’re involved with decides to ignore that fact, then consequences have to happen in some capacity. Unfortunately, that means sometimes there’s going to be consequences for us taking back some of our autonomy. Freedom will never be a risk free proposition and anyone who thinks it is likely isn’t interested in it to begin with.

Freedom is all about taking responsibility for yourself and your needs and part of responsibility means doing things that include risky ideas and actions. Freedom isn’t synonymous with danger but it’s likely not much of a state of freedom if we’re not able to experience fear and take risks, suffer consequences (intended or not) and so forth.

Workers asserting authority over themselves and their labor might mean that consumers might suffer to some extent but it’s also worth contemplating if the suffering of the workers is worth the majority being happy. I’m not a utilitarian and I don’t think “the greatest good for the most amount of people” (as some versions of utilitarianism argue) is the ultimate Good for us in our lives. Rather, I seek a life of flourishing which means that society as a whole is foundationally built on things like individual liberty, prosperity, equality of authority, solidarity, etc.

Things that are most likely to distribute the benefits of virtuous lives as equally as possible throughout society. Instead of having a moral system that tends to be better handled by those who are already in well-established positions. Utilitarianism is a very demanding moral system in some ways and often those who can meet the challenges of demanding moral systems are those who are already entrenched within a given society.

Moreover, the demands on our lives that bosses and more fundamentally work itself often make on us often contradict our efforts to work towards a more just society. Which means we sometimes have to take steps in our own direction, even if there are side-constraints on our actions, to oppose our own constraints.

In this case, it wasn’t like the driver didn’t want to prevent this:

“This kind of incident is unusual in our network,” the company said, adding that it was “the driver’s responsibility to inform in advance about a substitute requests”.

A spokesman for the Semaf rail workers’ union said the driver had put in a request to be relieved.

“They should have had a substitute driver lined up but it didn’t happen. We’ve seen similar things in the past.”

Now, I don’t know who to believe here. It seems more likely to be that the union is telling the truth but given I have no conclusive way to know for sure, I’ll try not to lean on it too much. That said, what seems more reasonable, a driver knowingly and willingly put people on a stranded train for a few hours without a second thought beforehand? Or a fed up driver who has consistently not gotten the relief he needs at work finally took things into his hands?

I’m not saying either one for sure happened, but which do you think seems more likely?

Speaking as someone who has had a train, bus, plane or car they’ve been on delayed, stuck in traffic or otherwise somehow made to be inoperable, I definitely understand the pains these folks were likely in. But I also want to say that the people were only stuck there for a few hours. They only had to deal with the nonsense the driver has to deal with every day for a few hours. That may not make it any more right, but I think it makes it less obviously wrong.

The Guardian also included this bit at the end of their article, I’m sure it was just a coincidence that it makes the company in question look really bad:

Separately on Tuesday, information from the black boxes retrieved from a rail crash in north-western Spain last Friday, killing four, revealed that the train had been travelling at 118 kilometres per hour, on a track that allowed just 30 kph.

The four dead were the Portuguese driver, two Spaniards and a US tourist.

Given this company’s recent showings of their standards, it wouldn’t surprise me if they’re failing in other areas too.

As you’ll see throughout the article that I’ve written here, I’ve wrestled with the ethics of slacking off http://abolishwork.com/2014/01/26/the-ethics-of-slacking-in-the-workplace/

a few times before and while I’m obviously still somewhat conflicted about it and can understand both viewpoints, ultimately I side with the worker who is trying to reshape their personal lives for the better. Inconveniencing people may not always be the best sort of activism but sometimes it becomes necessary under oppressive conditions, especially then.


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