Saturday 25 June 2022

The Saturday List #351 - My ten personal strike memories

 Today is yet another rail strike. It is really starting to feel like we are rushing back into the 1970's. For some reason, Boris Johnson has decided that annoying workers to the point they go on strike is a great way to win elections. The Byelections on Thursday may indicate the public disagree and understand that with rampaging inflation, workers need to pay bills. To celebrate the Rail strike, The False Dots have released a video called "The Greatest British Fail" to tell the story of how Privatisation transformed a railway that was under invested and falling to bits into a railway that was under invested and a goldmine for private companies, with gold lined deals guaranteed by the taxpayer. It's also quite a good little dittie. 

I thought I'd list my memories of important strikes and what they meant to me.

1. The miners strike 1974. This was a momentous occasion. A three day week, power cuts, the telly finishing at 10pm. What do I remember? Funnily enough, I remember buying a transistor radio and listening to "The Crisis Programme", a special phone in programme hosted by Robbie Vincent. It morphed into Robbie Vincents late night London. It was damn good fun.

2. The Teachers strike 1975(???). I was at Finchley Catholic High School. I hated school so when we heard the NUT (National Union of Teachers) was going on strike, we were ecstatic. Sadly, Ned Kelly, the Headmaster told us that we had to come into school anyway. We all turned up and sat in classes, with a few strike breaking teachers wondering around, telling us to shut up. Just after lunchtime, we were told to go home. We all walked up to Totteridge and had a punch up with kids from Ravenscroft School who were also lurking around. For the next strike, the police told Ned to make us stay at home. I always disliked Ravenscroft School after that, until they bought a load of music gear from my shop!

3.  The BT workers strike 1986(?). I was working at BT in 1986. I was in the IT department. Our union was the NCU/C. The engineers from the NCU/E went on strike. We were based at Baynard House in Blackfriars. There was a lot of bad feeling between the two branches of the NCU. The previous year the NCU/E had not supported the NCU/C on a strike. As a result the NCU/C was not supporting the NCU/E and were crossing picket lines. I did not want to cross the picket line, but as a matter of principle, they had crossed ours. I was confronted by an aggressive picket line. I told them in no uncertain terms that they'd crossed our picket lines, they'd broken our strike and as far as they were a bunch of scabs and I would not be supporting them. After that they didn't bother me. There were a couple of other guys who were not so forthright and there were physical altercations. After a few days one of the Union convenors approached me. He apologised for the NCU/E not supporting us and said he understood how I felt. He said that they should never have done that. Trades Union action only works when members stick together. It was a lesson for me. I've never felt good about it.

4. The Print workers strike.The print unions ruled the roost in the 70's. Newspaper plants were strongly unionised. Rupert Murdoch opened a print plant in Wapping. It was the beginning of the end. A friends Uncle was a Printer at the Daily Mirror. Within a couple of years, he was out of a job and then had his pension nicked by Robert Maxwell. Can't say I've been a fan of Press Barons since then.

5. The Miners strike. Margaret Thatcher in the 1980's decided to break the Miners Union, many believe it was as payback for the miners bringing down The Tory Government of Ted Heath. It was a horrible dispute and some communities have not recovered. I recall being at a punk rock gig, raising money for the miners. I can't remember the bands, I went to a few. A few miners were there as guests of honour. I ended up at the bar with a couple of old guys from somewhere up north, who were lifelong miners and were seriously financially strapped. We were chatting away and one said to me "You know I don't really like this sort of music, but I respect the support you guys have given us. When I saw the Sex Pistols on the Bill Grundy show, I thought they were disgusting, but they supported the striking firemen in 1977 and I realise I'd been wrong. The real threat to this country are the greedy bastards who want to rob the working man". He was not wrong.

6. The Grunwick Dispute. This was a horrible dispute. I was just a kid and I just saw the news images, that weren't sympathetic to the workers. Our local MP, Sir John Gorst, a Conservative was a staunch supporter of Grunwick bosses. A few years later, I was chatting with a friend who was an active trades unionst and he put me right about the dispute. It made me realise just how misleading press coverage can be.

7. The Gdansk Shipyard strike. This was a really important moment. Workers striking against a Communist government. The Leader, Lech Walesa became a global figure. My Dad, a stauch Conservative said it showed that Communism didn't represent working men. It was hard to argue with him at the time. When I went to the USSR and Eastern Europe, I realised that what they had there was not any form of Communism Karl Marx would recognised, in many ways it was legalised gangsterism. Travel certainly broadens the mind, but the Polish strikers were the people who pulled the wool from them.

8. The winter of discontent - 1979. Council workers on strike. Rubbish piling up in the streets, Bunns Lane Carpark tranformed into a rubbish dump. The local cemeteries shut. It was horrible, but what was even more horrible was that it lead to Thatcherism. The one aspect of strikes that's always worried me is the law of unintended consequences. We are now seeing a summer of discontent. Maybe it will herald the end of the Tory decade? 

9. The firemens strike 2002. The Army was brought out, with their green goddess fire engines to break the strike. Once again the media gave the strikers a good kicking. It's always struck me as the height of hypocrisy watching TV News Presenters and commentators who get massive salaries criticising working people risking their lives for pretty crap wages for being greedy. We get told that 'there is no magic money tree' then wonder why we have labour shortages doing dangerous or unpleasant jobs. 

10. Rail Strike 2022 - I must say a few words about the rail strike. I wrote a blog on the subject on Monday, where I laid out why I support the strike. Since then, Mick Lynch seems to have embarked on a mission to show how to run a Trades Union. I wasn't a fan of the Arthur Scargill school of media relations. Mick Lynch simply tells the truth and doesn't get irate. It works. He calls out lying minister and ridicules stupid commenators. It made me wonder why Union Leaders didn't twig that making your case in a calm rational way and calling out bullshitters with a degree of sarcastic humour many moons ago. Here's his greatest hits


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