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

Share
Related Topics

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!

Posh creative types need working-class talent to feed them

Julien Temple started his film career with the notorious cinematic stinker Absolute Beginners, and, in my opinion, it's been downhill ever since. Of course he couldn't help being born a ponce, but like many a bogus radical he chose to perpetuate his ponce-hood by speechifying in a radical manner while sending his children to public school. Because you never know what germs them rough kids might have, eh Jools?

As the mythical Countess Elisabeth Bathory was reputed to bathe in the blood of virgins in order to keep her youthful beauty, there's a certain sort of posh soft-lad who keeps himself lively off the backs and blood of working-class talent – the Pistols, the Kinks and Dr Feelgood so far in Temple's case. And now the word is out that Temple is on course to make a bio-pic about Marvin Gaye.

Cultural slumming was bad enough when the proles ruled the roost but now that the dreary spawn of the public school system are outnumbering the guttersnipes in the charts, it REALLY stinks. It's bad enough when the victims are alive, but at a time when social racism has replaced the old kind which can get you arrested (see the Mumsnet cows slagging off the Beckhams for being "working class" and Oliver Letwin opining that people from Sheffield shouldn't go on holiday) it makes me feel queasy to see the corpses of the under-privileged and uber-talented picked over for pleasure and profit by the scions of the talent-free bourgeoisie.

Jools, can't you leave these poor prole boys alone and make a biopic of/pick on someone your own size and social bracket for a change? Like James Blunt?

'Big Brother' is coming back – get over it

Everyone who knows me knows what a cheery soul I am (the creature who writes here is just my evil twin) to the extent that my husband, when we first got together in the Nineties, said that it was like dating Brilliant Boy from The Fast Show, a popular TV entertainment of the time. Ingrid Bergman once stated that all that was essential for happiness was "good health and a bad memory" and while the former is dwindling in my case, the second blessing gets stronger by the year which more than makes up for it.

But I'm PARTICULARLY happy this week as I've just heard that BIG BROTHER IS COMING BACK! On Channel 5 in August! And this time, I'll love it even more because every stuck-up seat-sniffing sad-sack in Christendom thought it was dead and gone forever. Get over it, you lemon-sucking, finger-wagging sour-pussies! WE WIN!

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Developer (ASP.NET, F#, SQL, MVC, Bootstrap, JavaScript)

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Payment Developer (Swift, FOX, Vigil, .NET, SQL)

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Payment Dev...

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Magaluf remains a popular party destination for British holidaymakers, despite a growing reputation for street violence in recent years.  

What happens in Shagaluf no longer stays there

Ellen E Jones
Simon Laird (left) and Sister Simon Laird, featured in the BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets  

Estates of the nation: Let's hear it for the man in the street

Simmy Richman
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?