Thursday 7 April 2011
Julie Burchill: The unions have been demonised, so the bullies have taken their place
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!
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