Thursday, 21 June 2012

Looking At Things Both Ways

Birds do it. Bees do it. Even educated fleas do it. Let's do it. Let's go on strike. 

So today it is the doctors. Last week it was police-people. Before that it was public sector workers. The underground people and the fire-fighters must be due a stint and I won't even mention teachers for fear of reprisals. The staff of a major airline managed to add themselves to the annals of strike history. It seem that no profession can have a sense of worth unless it can claim a strike. 

I am willing to bet, that with the exception of Clerks in Holy Orders or retailers who have yet to, that just about everyone in Britain has been on strike. I am also willing to bet that just about everyone in Britain has complained about someone else being on strike. What is wrong with this picture? 

Now, I am perhaps one of the least likely men in the whole world to be a card-carrying Tory, so to agree with them (but also every other government under whose administration strikes have happened) grieves me deeply - but what is the point of striking? It serves to do nothing else except inconvenience (at best) and endanger (at worst) those who are themselves innocent. I wonder if I would be able to find my doctor today, or if my baby was ill? I struggle even more with those who will select their industrial action dates to be the most difficult - for politicians? No, for me (and you). Tube Drivers going on strike - will that affect Lord Cameron of Witney? No - he has a driver and a car. Who will it affect? Me (and you). In short, the political classes can claim that strikes are futile because it seems that they are. The rest of us, all in the pit together - we are only hurting one another and with no apparent win!

The news is also full of one Jimmy Carr who has been sneaking his hard-earned away and not paying tax. The system he uses is legal, yet (according to Lord Cameron's little purser) 'morally repugnant'. 'Boo' say they. 'Hiss' say others. But with forked tongue we all speak, and why? Because only most pious altruistic person alive would not, if it were offered to them, take every opportunity to avoid paying tax. Every possible tax relief there is finds itself pursued by us all, priests included. Put simply, we put up with paying tax, but we would stop in a breath given the chance. I say that we say 'boo' to Jimmy Carr because, boys and girls, we are jealous! 

This day and age is characterised my so much uncertainty and very often that lack of security bring the worst out in people. We would sooner withdraw our services in light of the fact that as we grow older we may just have to work a little longer and pay a little more for the fund that will see us to our grave. It seems to be the case that we have jobs when so many don't and that we take that for granted. I am happy to have a pension. I am delighted to have paid work. If I don't get the automatic pay-rise that some professions enjoy, I will simply be glad that I have an income. Taking the wider view, perhaps none of us in affluent Western World society have an iota of a claim to go on strike when there are people who are foraging through bins for their next meal, or else watching their children die the most horrid malnourished death. When it comes to finger pointing, the mirror that is there is invisible - but the finger pointing right back is no less real. 


  1. We should not confuse legal /illegal with right / wrong. I don't think it a good attitude to reduce one's tax bill to something vanishingly small, while still gaining from public services. paid for by the rest of us.

  2. As one who has been on strike at least 10 times during her working life, I beg to differ.
    No-one, no matter how militant, would choose to go on strike (which, by the way, usually means losing at least one day's pay), if there was any really reasonable hope that conditions, pay, etc. could improve by any other means.
    Had the early trades unionists not started this method of gaining a voice, in the political arena, we would still be stuck in the middle ages, with 'them and us' slave and owner mentality.
    My father was a trade union officer all his life, and received as much praise as he did abuse for his sterling work on behalf of the Bakers' Union.
    As for tax avoidance, only those with large enough incomes have even heard of the term.

  3. Ray, fair point. Sadly, I too am conditioned by a past life as a child who was evicted from school for big swathes on my latter years because of the NUT - and left to wander the streets for hours at a time! I simply think that they serve no purpose in the present age. Maybe I am being naive, too. I note that retailers appear never to have striked. Hmmm

  4. Depends how you classify retailers - try petrol retailers.

  5. Ah, they were distributors. I speak of the great class of humanity that found themselves working in shops!

  6. I too have been on strike in previous employments and I fully agree with Ray. Nobody goes on strike for the fun of it. They do it because it is a laast resort when negotiations with those in power have broken down. With regard to comparison with others in the world, much of the legislation that protects working conditions we now take for granted in the UK only came about because our predecessors took such action, often at great cost to themselves.

    So yes, I think you are being naive. And perhaps it is no coincidence that working conditions in parts of the retail sector are among the worst in the country, with many employees being on so-called "zero hours" contracts.

  7. I once nearly went on strike, but we worked out that we could do just as much damage by merely abiding by job descriptions and working exactly the contracted hours. You know there's something very wrong when that is true.

  8. "Nobody goes on strike for the fun of it" - in many cases you must be right, but not in all. I know well of one person who, in conscience, was unprepared to go on strike in a given dispute. The union rep - a loud individual with a personal crusade, made it impossible for her not to go on strike for fear of reprisal and isolation. I have also heard of others who would sooner have donated eyeballs than cross a picket line. Naive perhaps, but not entirely :)

    Good to hear from you again RevS - hope you are well!

    In retail, we just got on with it - because in retail it is very clearly accepted that all employees are readily replaceable. It changes the dynamic from within (even if we look crap from without). It meant that we did what we were told in order to put bread on the table.

  9. Thanks for the welcome, Farv :)

    Of course there are plenty of examples of individuals being coerced by others into strike action, and in close-knit communities (e.g. mining villages) the fear of permanent ostracism is a powerful lever. But the solidarity of a union was (and is) often the only means available to make one's voice heard in a very unequal power balance. (This is not to excuse or condone this kind of coercion). Companies and managements tend to hold most of the cards in a dispute. As you mention about retail, employees are readily replaceable and so are susceptible to all kinds of arbitrary, exploitative and bullying treatment.



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