As a former civil servant, I was sorry that so many of my former colleagues took industrial action last week. I fear it may have disadvantaged those who depend on public services, without advancing the cause of those who provide them. Public opinion has moved on and there is now less tolerance of or sympathy for strike action of any form. I hope a sensible dialogue can be resumed and a satisfactory outcome arrived at with no more disruption.
My only taste of industrial action was some thirty years ago. The refuse collectors in Lambeth, where I was a councillor, went on strike because the council was planning to get rid of totting. (Younger readers may not know about totting; the dustmen used to go through ones bin and if they found anything of value, they would remove it and put it on a trailer behind the dustcart. They would then go to the totter – in council time - and keep any proceeds of sale) Every local authority had got rid of this rather unhygienic activity, which both opened up and slowed down the collection process; but the Lambeth dustmen were deeply attached to this perk. So they went on strike and the councillors collected the rubbish in hired lorries at the weekends. It was an eye-opening, nay eye-smarting, experience that taught me a lot about my neighbours and there is evidence of my activity on www.sirgeorgeyoung.org.uk/pages/biog2.htm
After a few weeks, the dustmen returned to work on the terms originally offered and totting was ended. Today, with renewed emphasis on the recycling of rubbish, there may well be attempts to bring back totting, in which case I dare say the dustmen will threaten to go on strike again.
I am not without sympathy for those in the public sector; a civil servant threatened with demotion came to see me at my Advice Bureau some time ago. His superior had accused him of not being up to the task and, in particular, of being indecisive. All the claims he was meant to adjudicate on, he simply sent up the chain, to be resolved at a higher level. Eventually, his superiors lost patience and proposed to downgrade him.
I sat through his sorry tale. At the end I said I was very sorry to hear what he had to say; I sympathised with his predicament and I was confident that there was no substance in the accusation that he was indecisive. “What you would like me to do about this?” I asked. There was a long silence before he replied.
“I don’t know.”