Monday, 2 February 2009


An unofficial oil workers' strike continues to dominate the news, visually enhanced today with news pics of the strikers in the blizzard that has shut down much of the UK's transport infrastructure over the past 24 hours and will continue to do so, it seems, for much of this week. The strikers are protesting about a policy of employing 'foreign' workers on the minimum wage- thus undercutting jobs for the 'British' (whoever they may be - not Cornish or Scottish or Welsh, we know that now...).

I don't know anything about the oil business, or the current state of industrial relations in this country, but I woke this morning in Central London to the sight below my window of a largish group of 'foreign' construction workers who had turned up for work at 7.30, huddled together in the snow (and it was deep snow too - not a stone's throw from Park Lane), waiting to clock on. The 'foreign' staff of the Club where I stay had all gamely turned out as well to give us 'ladies' our breakfast (although I was too lazy to go down for mine, being glued to the news channel for updates on the state of First Great Western trains). Marianna, the (foreign) receptionist, had walked to Audley Square from her flat in Swiss Cottage, there being no buses or Underground trains in London this morning - apart from a reduced service on the Victoria Line, that being the only Underground line to be entirely under the ground. In fact, the only people who hadn't made it in were the non-foreigners - in other words, the 'British'. How sad and pathetic this is, really. What is all this 'training' in aid of if it fails to give us any backbone? And why were there no buses? Apparently, they ran throughout the Blitz; but Mayor of London for the Noughties, Boris Johnson blustered an excuse along the lines that it wasn't worth spending taxpayers' money on gritters and snowploughs for such a rare contingency as the current snowstorm. Unlike somewhere like Finland, say, where I remember the buses running on time in the far north of that country in temperatures well below freezing. (In fact, I was sorely disappointed not to be able to claim a day off work in Kemi when the mecury dropped below minus 10 C.) Yet London, 'one of the Western world's richest and largest capitals,' according to ITN, had manifestly spent a fortune on the entertainment for the Chinese New Year celebrations in Trafalgar Square yesterday, a celebration that attracted a huge crowd (and Mayor Boris, who was speechifying), in spite of the snow flurries and the biting wind that were threatening the city a good 12 hours before the blizzard brought it to a standstill. PM Gordon Brown has seen fit to chuck billions of taxpayers' money the ailing banks and (latterly) the car industry. Not at snowploughs and bus crews, though. Snowploughs, it seems, are a contingency too far. In fact, no one would think it ever snowed or rained heavily in this country, in spite of our unusual weather's being such a staple ingredient of British social intercourse. Funny really.