If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Monday, 13 September 2010

Some of us remember the 1970s

Yes we do.

I was brought up in a solidly Labour household, where "The Conservatives" (never the 'Tories') were nothing but money-grubbing swine who wanted nothing better than to make profits at the expense of ordinary people, and where the greatest criticism of anyone was to call them 'selfish' (which the Conservatives were, by definition). The Labour Party and the Trades Unions may have had their faults, but were always excused for having their hearts in the right place. Both my parents were a product of modest working-class upbringings, and I am sure that this defined their world-view, but at the same time they were both immensely moral people and their motives were of the highest.

The rot for me started in the 1970s. I was at University from 1972 to 1975, living in a rich leftie environment where any support for Heath or Mrs Thatcher would have been social suicide, but it became increasingly clear to me that we were going in drastically the wrong direction.

Young people today who weren't even born when Margaret Thatcher left office like to talk about the damage done to 'society' by 'Thatcher', as if this were an undisputed fact. They have no idea of just how depressing it was to live through the 70s. It seemed that every day there was yet another dispute, another strike, another work-to-rule, another chippy twat on the TV complaining that "management need to come back to the table and negotiate seriously", code for "what part of 'do as we say' don't you understand?". The inconvenience of constant transport strikes, bin-men work-to-rules and council worker go-slows was wearing, but my abiding memory is the sheer depression caused by the constant bickering and bullying in the news media. It seemed as though 25% of all news bulletins was given over to instustrial action (more properly named 'inaction') of some kind. And, of course, the Government of the day (Labour, under Jim Callaghan, for those of you with short memories) treated it all with weary resignation. How could they do otherwise, when the instigators of the trouble were their own paymasters? It seemed as though the whole situation was as inevitable as the weather. And then along came a politician who said that it needn't be like this, who promised change and had the willingness to take some unpopular decisions and see them through, and in 1979 I, along with millions of others, became part of Mrs Thatcher's landslide victory.

I had some difficulties with her style and presentation, and I didn't agree with all of her moves, but few would argue today that the changes she made were vital for the economic survival of the country. After the miners' strike, it seemed as though the political landscape had changed for ever. When Blair came to power in 1997, it looked as though the changes had stuck, and that Labour was going to return as a post-Thatcher party, having absorbed the lessons of the 70s.

That went well, didn't it?

And now it seems as though the 70s are about to be recreated. The BBC reports that:

The public will not accept large-scale spending cuts, TUC chief Brendan Barber has said as trade unions gather in Manchester.

Mr Barber said unions would reach out to the wider community to form a "progressive alliance" to make the case for alternatives to spending cuts.

And RMT union leader Bob Crow called for a campaign of "civil disobedience" in protest at spending cuts.

They dont get it, do they? Their party has given Britain the biggest deficit in the last 50 years, and they propose more of the same as a cure. Furthermore, they are planning 'resistance':

Earlier Mr Crow said if there was a "concerted effort by this new government to attack workers in all different parts of society" then workers taking action should "co-ordinate that resistance to defend working men and working women".

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union, said industrial action was "inevitable" but added: "It is clear the most effective opposition would be the biggest popular movement we have seen for many years."

This is like looking out of the kitchen window and seeing Tyrranosaurus Rex strolling through the back garden. It may be all noise, and I hope so. But I have a feeling that we are going to see selected scenes of the 70s all over again. And for those of us old enough to remember it the first time, that's a depressing thought.

Old Holborn
has some interesting figures on how much these guys actually earn:

Bob Crow (RMT) £118,000
Dave Prentis (Unison) £127,000
Derek Simpson (Unite-Amicus) £118,000 with a pay rise this year of 17%
Mark Serwotka (PCS) £110,000.

Figures include pension contributions, car allowances and expenses. Allegedly.

Downtrodden workers, or bolshie hypocrites frightened of losing their perks and status?

And at least partly paid for out of your and my taxation. The Coalition needs to end payments to the Union Modernisation Fund, and fast.


  1. And partly paid for out of my bloody subs.

    That's not really an indication of great sympathy for unions in general or the PCS in particular. It's more down to the fact that, long ago, I joined a union that went some way towards representing my interests. Having been outsourced and TUPEd a number of times since, I'm still under semi-public-sector T&Cs – including collective bargaining, now under the banner of PCS, following a series of union mergers. If I want a vote on the subject of my pay, I have to carry a card. Otherwise I wouldn't bother.

    As in, I really wouldn't bother. My representation in the IRSF, whose membership consisted of Inland Revenue executive grade staff, was as a 10% membership share of a 55,000-strong union. In PCS, it is slightly less than 0.01% of a 300,000-strong union. No surprise we get pay negotiatiors from the not-good-enough-to-be-B-team pool these days, really. Still, it's not all bad – PCS do have a strong interest in using their clout to arrange mass discounted white goods insurance and cheap loan facilities, alongside demonstrating their right-on support for various minority groups. Occasionally, those minority groups even include some of their own members.

    When I do vote, as often as not, it goes against the union recommendation as a protest.

    So when I hear our glorious comrade leaders squawking about the full support of their membership in widespread programmes of unrest and disobedience, I fear they are being a little disingenuous – and that extrapolating that further, to "the public" is just plain wrong.

    It bothers me that, knowing public services as I do, the austerity measures will be dealt with lazily, by waves of short-termist staff "savings" – job cuts, in other words, to tick the necessary boxes. Never mind that the true waste lies elsewhere: in insane masses of contradictory and irrational processes, under the dead hand of parasitic, empire-building middle management, in the lunatic commercial and contractual rules departments are burdened by and in the mad failure to comprehend where the reasonable limits of security or health-and-safety compliance should end. Above all, it lies in the inability to understand or specify requirements that accurately enact our burdensome and excessive legislature. The axe should fall on the myriad competing systems for reaping tax and returning benefits, on the quangos and special interest lobbies, on the relentless scope creep of the NHS and the police and the education system – and it won't, I fear. It'll fall on the poor bloody infantry.

    But I don't believe militancy is the answer. Public services are as much dinosaurs as the unions are: basically unaccountable, monolithic, top-heavy, inflexible and badly-run. They need reform, not (to pinch your analogy) the earth-shaking conflict of T-Rex versus Triceratops, with a combined poundage of 45000 and combined IQ in single figures.

    Barber almost seems to grasp that an alternative is needed, that industrial action and protest are no long-term solution either. Experience should have taught the unions that by now. To really make a difference, the unions should be the rational voice of discussion, articulating how the services their member work on could be improved. Behaving, in short, like grown-ups with a valid set of proposals, instead of like petulant children intent on starting a ruck.

    Sadly, most of the gentleman listed above are gold-plated arseholes from the John Prescott school of social inadequacy, seemingly unable to peer over the gigantic "working-class" chips on their shoulders, and failing to understand that their guaranteed and sizeable remuneration packages simply belie any claims to class warriorhood they may have once possessed.

    I don't always agree with la Thatch, but she had the right idea about the TUC. They've had every chance to evolve beyond the desire to create a new set of Tolpuddle Martyrs, and wasted every opportunity to do so. Wankers, the lot of 'em.

  2. Thanks for that 'insider' viewpoint - very interesting. I was a member of a teaching union for many years, mainly because teachers need personal insurance, and joining a union was the most cost-effective way to get that. I went from the NUT (yes, really) to the NASUWT, but I was thrown out of that one for refusing to take part in a strike, which I considered pointless and counter-productive, but they made it clear that a strike call was an instruction, not a suggestion, and asked me to leave. I joined AMMA (now the ATL), which is a non-political, non-militant professional body, and I am still with them - the one tie to my teaching years that I haven't cut.

    I am sure your predictions about the way cuts will be implimented are right. Cutting the poor bloody infantry is not only easier and safer for those doing the cutting, but of course it allows them to let the service deteriorate and then blame the Government.

    We're in for a tough few years, I think.


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