Archie Bland: Striking back the best and only way they know how

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I've never been on strike, so my understanding of them is a little limited. That's what I nearly concluded, anyway, when I heard the things the Tories have been saying about border guards' plans to take industrial action tomorrow. Actually, though, they may be the ones who are deluded.

Home Office minister Lord Henley said the idea was "opportunist". Fellow Tory peer Baroness Fookes called it irresponsible and a "squalid little exercise". Transport secretary Justine Greening described would-be strikers as potential champions if there were an "Olympic sport of self-interest" whose actions "would disrupt journeys for thousands".

These are all valid criticisms – if, that is, one believes that the purpose of a strike is to get people out of work, causing as little disturbance to the ordinary flow of things as possible. The trouble is, that doesn't sound so much like a strike to me as a day off. Strikes, in contrast to bank holidays, are supposed to be disruptive. It's the entire point. If they didn't make life more difficult, they would have no impact whatsoever. I'm reminded, elliptically, of the line from the otherwise mediocre teen comedy Road Trip, when someone complains that a short-cut is too hazardous: "It's supposed to be a challenge," the driver says. "That's why they call it a short-cut. If it was easy it would just be the way."

The appeals to the national interest that the likes of Greening and Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt have been making similarly seem to imply that unions exist for any purpose other than the protection of their members. Now, you can argue that this strike will be counter-productive, because so many people will find it so annoying and I'd probably agree. It is likewise perfectly clear that the government's entitled to take whatever steps it can to minimise the disruption. But to question the right to do it is another thing entirely.

Let's not forget, as we digest Jeremy Hunt's chillingly casual observation that some of his cabinet colleagues would like to sack the border guards for exercising their rights, that they aren't just doing it on some power-crazy whim: 5,200 of their number are probably going to lose their jobs by 2015.

You can hardly blame them if they are unconvinced by assertions that they should give up the chance to protest this simply so that the people coming into the country for the Games can have a marginally jollier visit. If Justine Greening and her cohorts seriously believe that one, they will surely challenge for the gold in the noble British tradition of wishful thinking.

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