If you are a resident of Southampton, you will know that the bin-men have been on strike for the last couple of weeks and that some of us could be without a collection for more than a month in total (in fact, for recycling, the gap between collections is likely to top six weeks). So it’s like Naples, but less trendy because we can’t actually blame the Mafia. And it’s not as hot. And the food here isn’t as nice.
Anyway, it goes without saying that I have no sympathy with the Unions who are behind the strike action. The official Southampton City Council position is detailed here and although I do have sympathy with those who are facing a pay cut - never ideal - we have to realise that we are in a recession (and remember that there are many who have lost their jobs completely). However, the Unions have apparently refused to negotiate (no surprises there then), and the Labour Party are offering no constructive help or solutions. Sadly, using the opportunity to play political games rather than working to find a positive outcome for all is what I have come to expect from Labour’s brand of ‘socialism’ but as I was sensible enough not to vote for them I guess I can’t really complain. One day the world will wake up to the fact that we can’t all be like Union bosses and rake it in, and realise that being denied a pay-rise is not a legitimate excuse to throw a tantrum.
I wish. Mind you, I can’t help wondering how many of the workers are in agreement with the strikes, or even fully understand the reasons behind them. We’ve seen a lot of Union action over the last year where the many and varied reasons given lead to a lack of authenticity; I fear that the main motivation has been the personal and political gain of the Union leaders, who are good at stirring trouble, rather than the genuine dissatisfaction of the workers themselves. This has only served to cement my lack of sympathy in this particular case – maybe it’s like the ‘boy who cried wolf.’
That said, after the encounter I had with the bin-man the other day, I’d still struggle to muster much sympathy in any case. After the initial week of strikes, collections were temporarily resumed and the bin-man happened to see me forcing the black sacks in to the top of my bin. He stopped and folded his arms, and stared at me. So I stopped, folded my arms, and stared at him.
“You can’t complain at the amount of rubbish,” I said, “there was no collection last week.”
“We were on strike last week,” he said, as though a) I was ignorant enough not to know and b) I would see this as a valid excuse. Maybe he had even expected each household to reduce the amount of rubbish as well.
Thankfully, because I had just about got all of the sacks in the bin he did take them all. For which I was duly grateful. Then whilst I was thanking him, a neighbour came running down the street to complain that not all of his rubbish had been taken. It turns out that if the rubbish is in the bin, it will get taken, but that if it is in bags by the side then the bin men are “obliged to leave it.”
Now, it is only fair that any rubbish outside the bin is taken at the discretion of the bin-men (otherwise who knows what some idiots will try and dump). But making excuses and “being obliged to leave it” in this case? We’re talking about a couple of black sacks, at a time of disruption. Surely the health and safety implications of leaving them festering for another month in the street are worse than anything the Unions could whinge about?
My point is that this wasn’t exactly an example of being “hard working” as politicians like to champion. Neither was it an example of thinking of others, or of putting effort in to a job. To my mind, it was lazy.
Don’t get me wrong, I like the idea of supporting “hard working individuals” but being “hard working” isn’t a title one enjoys by rights. If I had failed to live up to expectations in my previous job, a ‘pay review’ might have ensued – and I wouldn’t have gone on strike. Maybe I shouldn’t judge all bin-men on the basis of this encounter, but I do nonetheless wonder what makes them any different from the rest of us.