Monday, 26 October 2009


The amount of strikes on recently makes me think we’re either living in a the Thatcher era or, indeed, France. Please may I send a letter home? No you’ll have to wait because some people aren’t happy with their pay, conditions and modernisation. Please may I take the London Underground? No, you’ll have to walk because some workers aren’t happy with job losses, pay and disciplinary issues. Please may I fly with British Airways? No, there’s some cost-cutting measures that cabin crews have to sort out, so there might be a strike on there soon as well.

I’d like to point out that I am in a trade union - the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) - and regularly attend meetings so have a good idea of how unions operate and how strike action is considered. I don’t doubt that it’s a last resort for most workers, but my problem is that the consequences are often not properly thought through. If the post doesn’t operate, millions of people and businesses are affected despite having done nothing wrong. If the trains don’t run, millions of commuters and their companies are affected despite having done nothing wrong. Of course, this means unions are in a good position because they can impact more people than just themselves and their own company. But that doesn’t necessarily make it right.

I mentioned the NUJ, and there are often strikes at newspapers - I regularly read about them. If a local paper doesn’t run for one day - or operates at a lower capacity - it might mean people can’t read it. But whilst this might affect advertisers and be considered a disservice to the public good, it isn’t going to cause the same sort of problems that mail or transport workers will. From this viewpoint, newspapers are luxury goods whereas mail or transport are essentials. I’m not saying that therefore journalists have more of a right to strike, I’m simply pointing out that they cause less havoc to third parties.

I have no doubt that there are people in this country who do not get paid the right amount for what they do, but do hope this recent rise in strike action is temporary and we might get back to some sense of normality soon. The worst time to strike is during a recession, and the workers know that, but it’s a sure-fire way to seriously annoy your customers. Hopefully unions and companies can work together to get agreements laid down without the need to stop working.

* * *

When the very existence of your club is in danger, you start to be grateful that it simply exists. Accrington Stanley, Oldham Athletic and Bournemouth have all been there - but to name a few. This week it seems to be the turn of my beloved Southend United. Rumours have been flying around recently that a transfer embargo has been placed on the club since they owe the taxman a big sum of money. It was finally confirmed yesterday and this Wednesday will see the Shrimpers face a winding-up order in the High Court. This could result in administration, and the resulting 10-point deduction would put us bottom of League One, meaning a huge effort would be required just to stay up.

But the £660,000 owed to HM Revenue and Customs is the least of the club’s concerns, with just 12 fit professionals available for this Friday’s game against Gillingham. I was in Carlisle on Saturday with 170 other die-hard Shrimpers to watch us go down 2-1. The lack of substitutes was embarrassing - at half-time there were three players warming-up and two of them were unknown youth-teamers. I’ve been worried about Southend before. In fact, I’ve spent many moments of my life worrying about Southend. But this is different - as I could be without a local football team to support soon. I hope it won’t get to that stage, but the club is clearly in a crisis. Surely there’s an Essex businessman with a bit of spare cash? Ah well, if not, there’s always Newcastle and Sheffield United to follow...