Monday 24 October 2016

Talking is always better than the strike weapon

Published 24/10/2015 | 02:30

A woman walks past a pavement piled high with rubbish due to a refuse collector's strike, Shepherd Street, Central London, during the 'Winter of Discontent'.
A woman walks past a pavement piled high with rubbish due to a refuse collector's strike, Shepherd Street, Central London, during the 'Winter of Discontent'.

You know we are going backwards when a term coined in 1978 gains renewed currency. The phrase 'Winter of Discontent' was born out of the notorious breakdown in relations between government and unions in Britain between 1978 and 1979.

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As services seized up, empathy turned to anger and it was out of this molten fury that Margaret Thatcher fashioned herself into the 'Iron Lady'.

Once again, tempers are frayed as the public is left on the footpath shaking its fist as the crowded buses speed by.

Nurses and teachers are also waiting in the wings to take action. As a hard perma-frost settles in over the industrial landscape, grave damage could be done to the nascent recovery.

Strikes, no matter how well organised or concentrated, are not an answer. They represent a failure on both sides.

A 'well-planned strike' is an oxymoron. There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently something which should not be done at all. Whatever residual public sympathy there is at the beginning quickly evaporates as people can't get to work.

The old union aspiration which had it that "labour is not fighting for a larger slice of the national pie, labour is fighting for a larger pie" deserves examination.

It was the combined boost in productivity, creating a competitive cost structure, that got the pulse back into an economy that had flatlined. Neither the recovery nor the part played in it by workers should be taken for granted.

But a litany of strikes will rebound on all. There are mediation mechanisms that must be used. The public service has come in for criticism for being cosseted during the crash; private-sector workers bore the brunt of the pain, or so the theory goes. The truth is that public-sector workers did make sacrifices and have suffered like everyone else.

People are saying that morale has been eroded and that there is no other option. But there are always options.

Threats to schools, bus, rail and hospitals will not restore trust or create better conditions for wage increases.

The only certainty about a 'Winter of Discontent' is that everyone is left out in the cold.

Looking after a little piece of our history

The most famous haircut in Irish history was that given to Gráinne Mhaol who went on to become a pirate queen.

Legend has it that her father would not allow his fiery daughter accompany him on a voyage as her celebrated flaming hair might get in the ropes.

To spite him, and not to miss out on the voyage, she duly shore herself of her lustrous curls and earned her name - mhaol means bald in Irish.

Yesterday the famous Westport House, the site with which she was associated, was excluded from a massive Nama sale after the Government stepped in.

"Haircuts" took on a whole new meaning during the crash, but this time the State got a treasured national asset for its troubles. Understandably, there was national concern over the future of the historic house and its celebrated heritage.

It is understood that Nama is in talks to sell the debt to Mayo County Council. Tourism Minister Michael Ring, played a part in negotiations on the future of the mansion. A true friend in a time of need. The news that the magnificent grounds will be spared from a fire sale will be a relief.

Irish Independent

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