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AS SEEN ON T.V. (29/05/91)
I was on TV today!!!
I was on the News pictured stood on a picket line holding a workers union banner and adjusting my official union picket armband. It felt embarrassing to been seen in this way. To be displayed to massive public gaze in such a personal act of desperation. It had always been someone else on the news before. Some hopeless bunch of unintelligent "Communists" bent on obviously trying to get something for nothing and having failed resorting to such foul means to demonstrate their indignance.
The gaze of the press at Wapping and the Minors strike had always appealed to the aspiring Manager in me. I would not permit my staff to tell me what to do with my business. If that man worked for me he would do as I told him or not work for me. If he wanted to take money from me he should expect to work for it. If I said he was to jump for it he should ask me how high.
Could I really have been SO unfeeling and short sighted? God I hope those men have jobs, today. It occurs to me that it is not an easy thing to be more selfless in this day and age. More common to assume the selfish I'm OK who cares about you attitude. The overwhelming desire to attain personal wealth, one of the less admirable sides to human nature, is the stumbling block over which society is steadfastly falling! Oh there's nothing wrong with the philosophy if you are one of the fortunate ones who has managed to climb a few rungs up the ladder, for the altitude is intoxicating and memory short but if you get left at the bottom the weight can become unbearable. More so, if those at the bottom are helping those at the top increase the height of the ladder whilst ever hoping they may one day begin to climb. Perhaps the man who goes on strike is he at the bottom of the ladder who can see the first few rungs are being taken away and that of his piers few will be able to reach the first step and will be trodden under foot.
I should have realised that the 'I'm OK' attitude was endemic based on the interest shown in the ballot and in the subsequent emergency union meeting called immediately before the strike to discuss the issues. Why did so many people regard a possible strike as of such little significance as to not even bother to attend. Potentially valid arguments were put forward by all those who had bothered, but by the end of the evening I was convinced that pay was the least of the reasons why I felt it necessary to 'go out'. The ballot had been in favour of action and it was a democratic decision based on the majority vote. If I wished to remain protected by the majority I would have to abide by the majority decision despite my own desire not to have to lose money. I felt that since I was too weak to get involved in the union process and ensure change to those areas with which I was uncomfortable I would have to abide by what decisions were made by others on my behalf.
I left the meeting armed with the official picket armband determined to mount a visible show of conviction and solidarity with the majority outside of my office EARLY the next morning.
By seven o'clock I was stood in the biting cold wind outside of the office. I felt as conspicuous as only a one-man picket can feel. I felt vulnerable lonely and confused. I had never been schooled in the dying art of picketing. Certainly Janet and John had never felt it necessary to picket the local cake shop. My only role models had been those as seen on TV some years ago when it seemed that the new political, conservative age was sweeping aside the old naive, social order. I was half disappointed that there were no charging lines of Police horses mounted by the men in black under the hooves of which I could throw myself. Still, it was obvious to me that what I had to do was to be right. I was there to make a statement and to hopefully encourage, those whom I held to be short sighted, to expand their understanding of what it would mean to show a lack of solidarity with a protecting greater number. To show by my presence that an instalment on their long-term job insurance policy, was due. I wanted desperately to explain to them what I was feeling and how vulnerable they were with their mortgages and families and how not all of them would have the good fortune to be included in the "Vision" of a profit orientated future. How I was prepared to stand next to them and defend them if their livelihood was threatened. How I felt that this company had betrayed my trust. Not by one specific act such as offering X% as a pay increase but more by the accumulation of little things. Daily things perhaps too small for some to see but if analysed evidence of an erosion of basic worth.
It soon became apparent that my presence to the majority was in some way threatening! This may not have been the case but is the only conclusion I can reach based on their reactions. There were three types in the main.
Some were prepared to stop and explain their personal reasons for crossing the picket line despite their not wishing to. For the most part it was a case of not being able to afford to lose the wages for four days. Since by now it was clear that the latest unguaranteed bonus would cover the loss this was difficult to accept.(I hope for their sake that since they are so obviously living so acutely to their means that we always receive such a large bonus.)
Others simply remained silent and passed by as quickly as possible looking at the floor. One or two became positively aggressive!?
Dear colleague. Why?
Perhaps the most surprising reactions came from the managers to whom my unquestioning loyalty is expected. There were a few who despite the circumstances were prepared to stop, discuss and have a joke and in so doing perhaps display some greater understanding of what position they hold and what their responsibilities are to the workers they command and whose respect they MUST command.
There were others who despite their constant claims to be the head of a team suddenly found themselves able to treat their team members with less than the commonest of respect. To be ignored proved ignorance.
There was worse.
It had been intimated by a colleague that one 'team leader' had explained that if that individual took industrial action he would find himself back on the Post Office counter despite wishing to remain on administration writing duties. When it was pointed out to that team leader that he was crossing an official picket line, the reply was "And I'm happy to do so!" The tragedy of such an attitude in the face of such, by then, obviously futile desperation, convinced me more than any Union argument that I was on the right side of the door. I was happy in my financial loss to be able to say I had not cowered before that bully's threats.
By the time the DM arrived there were three pickets!! I attempted to explain why I was there and spoke of the loyalty I felt to the union, my fellow workers.(For the union IS the membership if they can be bothered to attend the meetings, not some separate entity bent on political gain or anarchy.) He asked me where my loyalty to the company was. I was unable to answer. Unable to explain that such loyalty is earned, not bought. Nor should it be taken for granted.
By nine fifteen it was clear that almost all of my 'colleagues' had decided to ignore the call for action and had walked past us. My spirits were low and I felt that I had been made to look foolish, believing as I did that a democratic vote was important and should be upheld. It was little consolation that as we were about to leave we were able to convince one person to stay out. (As directed by the majority!??)
It seemed right to head for the cash handling 'rem. unit' where a day long protest would be necessary, although by this stage I felt all that could have been saved was lost. Visions of "Flying pickets" went through my head as I rode my motorcycle towards the rem unit. On arrival I was even more convinced of the futility of our actions in the face of such overwhelming inaction.
There was one picket on the gate. He was stood there alone in the bitter cold in front of the massive building with vans and people bustling to and fro all around. He had been there alone since seven o'clock. To make his 'point'. He earned my respect and loyalty in that act more than any union official or management argument could have done.
It wasn't long before more had arrived but of course no more than six, since the Government had made it law that not more than six should be the number of official pickets present at any one time. With them came the news that at least some of the offices were shut, not least of all The Galleries. It seemed vital that this office perhaps above all should close in order to force those who were convinced that nothing was rotten in the state of Denmark, to re-examine their positions.
I thought I was part of a team. Part of a family even, with perhaps the odd black sheep. I have been forced to accept that each of us sheep is a different colour out on his own who would happily trot away from each sacrificial lamb as it is taken. Division of the flock is what has now been displayed. Not one of us can now rely on the massed ranks of our dissenting colleagues to ensure "fair play", fair pay or long term job security. Unquestioning subservience was perhaps someone's mission and must now be the realised vision.
I wonder if on returning to work on Monday I will be made to feel the odd one out when my non striking "colleagues" will perhaps find beneath their seats a T shirt given in 'recognition' by the management, celebrating the fact that they did not go on strike.
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