Honk if you give two hoots

Is it me, or are we becoming immune to strike action?

by Black Sheep

Is it me, or are we becoming immune to strike action?

I’ll admit it. I’m old enough to remember the miners’ strikes, and those immortal chants of “Arthur Scargill, Arthur Scargill, we’ll support you ever more”. Not that they did of course.

But it was a big deal, and it made for great TV viewing. Certainly for wide-eyed schoolboys, what with the fisticuffs, the police-horse stampedes, the coach stonings and the union slang.

"Dad… What does scab mean?" I'd ask.

Then things took on a darker edge. I can still remember shuddering at the thought of the lights going out for Christmas. And that was when I really started to take a dislike to this Scargill fella with the bird’s-nest hair.

Not that I was right wing, or anything. I mean, this wasn’t long after the Winter of Discontent, when everywhere you looked there was ‘industrial action’. Which I thought a curious phrase, given all they did was mill around bonfires being anything but industrious.

But if you recall, the lorry drivers went on strike around that time, too. And I was alright with that. Right on, truckers!

It helped that our school was heated by oil, and when the tankers didn’t turn up to replenish supplies we were sent home for days on end. Even so, if I’d have had a car I’d certainly have hooted my horn for them.

Three years on, though, as the prospect of Arthur Scarface ruining Christmas loomed large, it had me incensed. "How dare you?!" I yelled (a phrase since stolen by a Swedish kid, of course). I mean, who did this red-faced, tub-thumping Northern upstart think he was? "Take your pick axe and get back down your pit you lazy, good-for-nothing malcontent," I stropped. In a middle-class, schoolboyish way.

Over time I came to realise that the miners’ strikes weren’t nearly as black and white as they seemed. Scargill was no more the Grinch than Thatcher was Father Christmas. In fact there was a good argument to say Maggie was Scrooge and Arthur was Bob Cratchit.

Either way, the whole episode left an indelible mark on me such that, ever since, the prospect of industrial action in any walk of life has always brought me out in a cold sweat. Until Covid.

Not that you need reminding, but if we weren't losing our jobs (or our lives), we were being made to eat outdoors - in winter - wear flippin' face masks everwhere, wait for ever for an ambulance, wait for ever in A&E if we managed to get there, wait for ever for a train that was never going to turn up, wait for ever for a doctors’ appointment... To say nothing of the post turning up a month late and your driving test being cancelled. 

Hence now, sadly, for those nurses, ambulance drivers, rail workers, train drivers, posties and driving examiners shivering outside with their placards in this post-Covid world of ours, their strike action has resulted in little more than service levels at what are now considered to be the new normal.

Sorry guys, you may be refusing to work, but we're kinda used to it now. We know full well not to wait for an ambulance if we can possibly help it. We half expect to spend the night in A&E before being seen. We avoid the railways at all costs, and work from home instead. We don’t send letters any more. We don’t go to the Post Office to send parcels, we use courier companies. And frankly we don’t care if our teenagers have to wait until they’re older until they get a driving licence. The roads are safer for it.

What makes things worse for the unions (or rather, the muggins workers on strike, given union leaders still get paid and get to keep their jobs) is the Government is all too aware of this. Hence their hard-nosed, fingers-in-ears approach. In fact it’s becoming a massive own goal. The unions have hacked off the Tories so much they're now tabling a bill to make strike action illegal.

As for Post Office and rail workers, they’re trashing their industry so badly, demand for their services is plummeting. Which is only going to end one way.

Today’s Arthur Scargills may not like to hear this, but the real risk to their members’ jobs and livelihoods isn’t so much an intransigent government as a nation’s collective shrug.

The fact is, after the trials and tribulations of the last three years, we’ve all become quite adept at keeping calm and carrying on.

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