Dispute awakens sweet memories of discontent: David Lister hankers after a time when industrial disputes were a very British custom

FOR THE true lover of nostalgia and romance A Year In Provence lacks the poignancy of A Week On The Paris To Lille Motorway. Watching from this side of the Channel, the disruption, the cursing, the threats, the indignation, all bring back dim memories of a phenomenon once as British as roast beef, the industrial dispute.

What a blow it is to the national psyche to see the French not just stealing a British patent, but robbing it of its intrinsic subtlety.

Bringing a country to its knees is a sophisticated operation. It involves strategic planning committees, support funds and allied fund raising, union solidarity, breaches in union solidarity, healed breaches in union solidarity and schisms in the Labour Party.

The Gallic approach, ignoring all the basic precepts of Marxist / Leninist theory for a half completed three-point turn, lacks finesse. But it nevertheless stirs the senses of those who remember the national breakdowns in this country, be they of transport, coal, post, docks, even newspapers.

Elections were fought, not over percentage points on tax bands, but over battles between trades unions and the government of the day. The miners brought down Ted Heath in 1974, 10 years before they were defeated by Thatcher. Heath's three-day week, and the later Winter of Discontent under Callaghan, were two of the best known phrases in the Seventies, and the last time trades union power overwhelmed government.

And it must ignite envy in the children of the Thatcher years who cannot recall a single nationwide industrial dispute and wondered during the election campaign why people cryptically referred to the opening line of Richard the Third - 'Now is the winter of our discontent . . .'.

It is a sad fact, though never bewailed by ministers, that few teenagers now can name a single trades union leader. Twenty years ago not a news bulletin passed without one. They tended to seem composites, usually called Jack, though occasionally Tom or Clive, and were obliged to speak with regional accents.

Max Morris, a former president of the National Union of Teachers and co-author with Jack Jones of The A To Z of Trade Unionism and Industrial Relations, said: 'National disputes are not necessarily bad. The teachers' dispute of 1969-70 electrified the profession. And for young people a big dispute provides massive political education. The big disputes became discredited by the excesses of Scargill but before that they were quite different. Mind you, I am driving through France next week so I have no sympathy whatsoever with this one.'

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...

Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teacher Required ASAP In Uminster

£120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wimbledon, SW London

£24000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wim...

Day In a Page

Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore