Dear Jimmy Knapp: Welcome back to the limelight, a writer tells the general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union. But will it last longer than 15 minutes?

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Indy Lifestyle Online
It's not that I thought you were dead, you understand. To be honest, you just hadn't crossed my mind for years. When was the last time you were in the news? Back in the golden olden days of Frank Cousins and George Woodcock, surely. It's not so easy to remember the who's who of trade unionism now that we manage just as well without you. What do you union leaders find to do with yourselves now your 15 minutes come round so rarely?

In all fairness, it's been a real treat to hear those eternal verities ringing from your lips again. People praise the language of the King James Bible, but that can't hold a martyr's flame to the phraseology of the trade union movement. All my mates reckon they've only got to let it wash over them to feel part of a universal truth wider and deeper than mere meaning, as the words echo and resound.

'The disappointment of our members . . . the offer on the table . . . negotiations with management . . . increased responsibilities . . .' These timeless litanies are truly Shakespearean. We could be watching, in a corner of our own homes, a modern-day production of one of the Bard's finest, as you rally your men once more unto the breach each Wednesday.

You haven't lost anything of your powers of oratory since those old glory days, and your chief negotiator's got a beautiful turn of phrase. I can see now how John Wesley made the impact he did at the height of his powers.

One would never think that time's running out for your members. The Aylesbury to London line has already been modernised so that one person can control untold miles of track. In a few years we won't need signalmen anywhere. The longer the negotiations drag on, the fewer members there will be to benefit from the extra cash you're holding out for.

I've even heard some cynics claim that if we look at life as it was lived when trade unions were founded, and compare it with the way things are today, the differences are due solely to what scientists, engineers, businessmen and changing public opinion have achieved. They try to make out that trade unionists and politicians have been irrelevant over anything but the shortest of timescales.

Promise me it isn't so. Why, in these past few weeks alone, you and your lads have stopped millions getting to work every Wednesday morning. Don't let anybody tell you that isn't an achievement to be proud of.

You've done exactly what Drake did to the Spanish, Nelson and the Iron Duke to Boney, and Churchill to Hitler. If there'd been men like you around when William the Conqueror tried his luck, we might have been living under Good King Harold XXV by now, instead of the present rent-a-monarch lot we've got.

So stick with it, Jimmy. But make the most of your present opportunity, because by this time next year, we could all have forgotten you again.

Yours fraternally,

Ken Carruthers

(Photograph omitted)

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