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Extortion ensures the event.

Posted by Big John on September 15, 2011

Many years ago I was in charge of setting up an exhibition stand at London’s ‘Olympia’ exhibition centre. The exhibition stands were built by specialist contractors, and the exhibiting companies laid out their own product displays.

One of my colleagues picked up a broom and started to sweep some sawdust into the aisle so that he could position an exhibit. Suddenly, as if by magic, a man appeared and asked to see my colleague’s “union card”. Of course, he didn’t have one, and so the union man stormed off, and within a few minutes all construction work came to a halt throughout the building, and was not restarted again for almost two days and not until a new agreement on overtime pay and other concessions was made between the trade unions and the exhibition’s organisers to ensure that all would be ready for the grand opening.

“I hope they finish on time”.. I said to the manager on the next stand.

“Oh, don’t worry”.. he replied .. “They always do. This happens every year”.

Now although I had never been a member of a trade union, I had been brought up in a working class family and my father had been a member of the Labour Party and was proud to wear the badge of The National Union of Railwaymen. He had told me tales of the Great Depression of the 1930’s and the National Strike of 1926, which meant that I had always felt empathy toward those workers who had banded together to achieve common goals such as fair pay and better working conditions, so it came as quite a shock to be confronted by a bunch of “brothers” looking for their usual bribe.

Since those far off days most of British industry has “gone down the tubes” and the trade union movement has lost much of it’s power and some good men, but some of those “brothers” are still around as can be seen from this story of what can only be described as ‘bribes’ being paid to train drivers to avoid disruption to London’s transport system during next year’s Olympic Games.

I bet the “Tolpuddle Martyrs” (and my dad) are …

… turning in their graves ! 😉


2 Responses to “Extortion ensures the event.”

  1. It’s about power, Big John, and as we know, “all power corrupts”. The trades unions were formed because the workers had no power and could be oppressed and exploited by the employers. With courage and endurance, they formed unions and thus acquired a balancing power of their own. That was right and proper and I support the concept of unions, having been a union member myself.

    However, power that can be used for for good can also be used for bad ends. For example, the police have special powers to enable them to deal with crime but some police officers use this power for illegitimate purposes. Wherever there is power there will always be the risk of its abuse.

    We would like to believe that union leaders use their power responsibly but that is an idle dream. There will always be those who misuse it.

    I would say that the offer of money to tube drivers not to disrupt services during the Olympics is also a form of abuse. Will all workers now demand a bribe to continue working during the Games and if not, why not? And what about pensioners? Shouldn’t they also be bribed not to picket and otherwise disrupt the Games? Once you bribe one set of people, the principle of equality demands that you bribe everyone.

  2. Ginnie said

    Moderation and common sense just don’t seem to hold any meaning in some areas. I remember a scenario very similar to the one you mentioned when I was working in NY City in the 50’s. An actual fist fight ensued when one person insisted on bringin his own chair to his exhibit booth ! I was hoping things had gotten better ….

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