Solihull College UCU Rotating Header Image

Julie Burchill: The unions have been demonised, so the bullies have taken their place

Reproduced below is a piece from the Blog of the Independant’s Julie Burchill.

The original article is avilable here http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/columnists/julie-burchill/julie-burchill-the-unions-have-been-demonised-so-the-bullies-have-taken-their-place-2264134.html

As I think I might have mentioned before, I come from a trades union family, and while my dad had the theory down and wasn’t above a bit of secondary picketing, my mother lived and breathed the struggle for workers’ rights. Or, as we call it today, Going Off On One Big Time.  I can’t recall the number of times I’d get home from school expecting to be greeted by an Individual Bird’s Eye Chicken Pie and my dad preparing to leave for his nightshift at the factory only to see my mum – who should have been at work – gesticulating wildly over the fence to the neighbour. My dad would look at me and smirk: “Boss looked at her funny again!”My mum was forever downing tools and marching out of her shop or cleaning job because the boss had allegedly Looked At Her Funny. The nature of this funniness was never wholly defined but we assumed that it was something to do with the boss feeling that he was in some way better than her. And as anyone who had ever seen her sing “My Canary’s Got Circles Under His Eyes” could have testified, this was provably ludicrous.

I don’t miss much about the past, but I do miss the days when workers had the nerve to walk out of a job on a whim because they knew that they could walk into another the next day. I’m thinking of that this week because my friend’s 22-year-old son is currently involved in an appeal against his employers. Not only did his boss look at him funny, but the manager of the shop where he works for some reason saw fit to harass, bully and physically attack him over a prolonged period of time until earlier this year he had a nervous breakdown. Mick Molloy of the GMB, who has been representing him, says: “I would liken the ‘relaxed’ working practices of this company to Lord of the Flies on the shop floor” – and this is not a man given to dramatic pronouncements. We keep hearing – most recently from Jamie Oliver – that today’s youth are pampered little potentates who are afraid to get their hands dirty and expect jam on it, with a level of entitlement unseen in any generation of workers before. But with the unions weakened and demonised, the reality is that the modern workplace is a tragic kingdom of exploitation, especially for the young. Lured by promises of “perks” and the camaraderie of “team spirit”, in reality what they get is very long hours for very little pay and if, like my friend’s son, you happen to work for a slap-happy scumbag, you will have to endure verbal and even physical abuse disguised as BANTER, because WE’RE A FAMILY HERE! (That would be the Manson Family?)There seems to be a special and unexpected tendency for self-consciously hip and liberal workplaces to go in for such vile behaviour. The artist whose work you see here has a friend whose first job was at a design company, of all places, where the boss’s chosen method of team-building was screaming into his employees’ faces “YOU’RE USELESS, I’LL KILL YOU!” followed some time later by “If I shout, it’s only BECAUSE I CARE!” A few months in and this man – “a 6ft-plus shaven-headed bloke!” – had developed a nervous stutter; a decade on, the experience still haunts him.When my friend’s son went to the police to report the physical assault by his boss which was the final straw, he was rewarded by a letter from them some weeks later which told him that even though the bully had admitted the offence, they would be taking no further action against him. At the appeal last week, according to Mick Molloy: “The individual who took the meeting had little or no knowledge of any of his own company’s protocols and procedures and talked amazingly at one point how the experience was ‘a learning curve for him’ and that it would ‘enrich his personal development’. They have found that the young man WAS assaulted but allowed the manager to continue working at the store. This company clearly leaves its employees to ‘get on with it’ – with disastrous consequences. The exploitation of the very young by the highly untrained certainly seems to be the key to the success of this company. Sadly they are not alone.”My mum may have taken it a bit too far at times, but how much better were the days in which workers walked out of jobs just because the boss looked at them funny than the days we live in now, when bright, sweet young men like my friend’s son are driven to the point of considering suicide because their boss is allowed to bully them with complete confidence and impunity. Progress, don’t you love it!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *