On Tuesday of this week, I crossed a picket line, and didn’t express any solidarity with the picketers. I walked straight past them, ascended the stairs and went about my business as usual. I didn’t pay it a moment’s thought, because the business with which I was doing business isn’t public and wasn’t participating in a strike. The picketers were part of the set. While it was all happening, I was listening to a very good radio report about Baroness Thatcher attending the unveiling of her Downing Street portrait, and I was thinking about something amusing a Labour councillor (@cllrtim) had written on twitter. Now there was a woman who knew how to deal with a picket line.
Of course, there have been times when I’ve crossed a picket line with rather more principle in mind. Protests against Huntingdon Life Sciences once threatened to stop me from going about my lawful business with an organisation which apparently supplied that entirely lawful business with equipment of some sort. People who would prefer Israel to not exist once attempted to blockade my access to a exhibition which suggested the holocaust had in fact occurred. In one particularly irritating incident, people who wanted to show me what a medical procedure looked like attempted to stop me from safely escorting a frightened young woman into a place where she could gain access to information on pregnancy counselling.
These pickets were, of course, not what was happening on Tuesday. No, on Tuesday, a small number of public servants were walking in circles around the doors to their work places while their colleagues queued on the motorway to gain access to the UK, where prices on food, clothing and alcohol were lower, and some recovered from hangovers in bed.
There is a solid and reasonable rationale for the strikes taking place in Ireland at the moment. Luke Ryder, in a somewhat whiny post, nonetheless excellently summarises:
a justifiable anger at the government’s attitude, both in expecting the public sector to take the hit and in making virtually no effort to negotiate. The act of picketing is a loaded one for a reason: being able to present a credible threat to shut down normal operations is what enables unions to force employers to the negotiating table.
This government has handled public pay abominably for seven years now, and its befuddled policies will now, inevitably lead to a real social unrest unless the people’s needs are heeded. The same people that elected this government repeatedly must now, inescapably begin to take responsibility for the catastrophe they unleashed on the country, over and bloody over again. It’s tragic, it’s sad, it’s a great pity, but public sector pay will have to fall if the cost of running the country can fall to a sustainable level. Jobs will go. Mine will probably be one of them, and it’s irritating but unavoidable.
I am painfully aware that this is not a free country, but one freedom we surely have is the freedom of political thought and analysis. My analysis is that the unions, whilst dead on the money on the cause of the collapse in Ireland’s economy, are catastrophically wrong on what can be done to fix the mess. Maybe the very rich should pay more tax every year. Maybe corporation tax should be higher. But if they believe that establishment and pay can be maintained at anything like the current levels, their argument is broken down and busted, and their pickets should be politely ignored.
If they persist, Ireland will need a Thatcher.