This morning I was travelling north along the M11 motorway from London to represent a UNISON member at an appeal hearing. Just before the Stansted Airport junction I was in the overtaking lane, when the rear offside tyre of the car in front of me brust. The car immediately began to snake from side to side and I started to think in Anglo-Saxon while slamming on the brake pedal. The car in front began to spin out of control but luckily for me (and everyone else) it span into the middle lane while I went past, coming a halt facing the wrong way.
Thankfully there was no-one else in the middle lane at the time and incredibly everyone else was able to stop without crashing. A number of cars pulled into the emergency lane while other drivers got out of their cars to see what they could do to help. With hindsight this was probably not the wisest thing to do on a busy motorway but there was an urge to assist and do your bit.
I went to the car with the blown tyre and was able to help the driver out who was in shock and very distressed but otherwise appeared to be okay. Somebody else took her away and comforted her while I managed to drive her car to the emergency lane. Other drivers took out high visibility jackets and made sure the traffic remained stationary while we recovered the other vehicles. In a brief exchange the strangers on the M11 made sure that everyone was all right, that the AA was on the way to deal with the shredded tyre, then we all said slightly embarrassed goodbyes and continued on our separate journeys.
My point (homily?) is that until the accident we were all individuals in our self contained metallic worlds totally divorced from others. Yet after the accident people instinctively rallied together in the common good and were able to deal quickly and effectively with a potentially dangerous situation in a collective manner. No-one was forced to stop and help. Nor did we get angry motorists beeping thier horns or refusing to stop. If we had all acted as selfish individuals then the outcome could have been very different.
I remember Tony Benn talking powerfully about a similar experience on a broken down train. It also reminded me of this UNISON promo video and why I believe in the union (and a Labour movement).