Belfast Telegraph

Cabin crews strike where it hurts by locking up the gin

By Katy Guest

An unlikely juxtaposition of proposed industrial action this week is giving the nation pause for thought.

Four new strike threats from workers at British Airways, British Gas, the Civil Service and the shambles formerly known as British Rail have given rise to a phenomenon that is already being referred to, feebly, as the Spring of Discontent. (It's like the Winter of Discontent, only warmer and tidier, with daffodils instead of refuse in the streets.) This most un-British state of affairs is becoming embarrassing.

Consider the dispute between GMB union members and the allegedly 'bullying' bosses at British Gas, for instance. It sounds like more of a sulk than a strike.

The union has voted for action, while the director of heating services sticks his fingers in his ears and goes "la la la" until it's over.

"The GMB has still not told us the grounds for this dispute, even though we have asked for this information several times," he pouted. "We are disappointed . . ." Perhaps he should send them to their rooms to think very hard about what they have done.

Meanwhile, unionised engineers are threatening to bring the corporation to its knees by refusing to turn up to fix people's boilers on time, or at all.

No wonder nobody seems to be despairing; for most British Gas customers, it's business as usual. It's no more organised over on the railways, on the other hand, where RMT members have threatened to to strike over Easter.

But everybody knows that Bank Holiday weekends are when the least chaos is caused to passengers - sorry, customers - when rail services are suddenly and brutally suspended without reason. That is when rail bosses always schedule their 'planned engineering work', after all.

Next thing we know, the RMT will be apologising to rail users for any disruption that 'may' have been caused. And as for the Unite union grounding the aeroplanes, well, anyone who watched The A-Team knows that BA never liked flying in the first place. (Sorry.)

It will be interesting, however, to see how the PCSU strike pans out. How do civil servants man/woman/person a picket line, anyway? Mill around chanting, "What do we want?"

"I couldn't possibly comment."

"When do we want it?"

"Within a reasonable timeframe to be determined by a cross-party working group bearing in mind the cost-benefit analysis within parameters laid out in the 1972 Act (paragraph 47A)."?

And the Government isn't helping to make this feel like a huge, us-and-them battle that all right-thinking people should engage with, either.

During the lorry drivers' strike of 1979, James Callaghan dismissed all the hysteria and went for a swim in the Caribbean; in the 2010 Spring of Discontent, by contrast, some Labour MPs promised to join the civil service pickets on a little Thames cruise.

How can we pick a side, when one side is warming its Thermos on the other side's brazier?

If we used to be good at striking, we have certainly lost the knack for it now. Once it was donkey jackets and righteous fury and shouting 'Scab!' at your neighbour. Now, it's more like a nice little queue, with placards.

But one tactic might rouse the slumbering anger of the public, and the striking cabin crew might have put their fingers on it.

Announcing a new, four-day strike starting tomorrow, Unite threatened that BA's attitude will deny passengers hot food or alcohol 'for the rest of the month'.

The Great British traveller? Refused a G&T after take-off? Now that is enough to rouse anyone's mettle. Strike! Strike! Strike!

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