THE TRADES Union Congress in Blackpool last week gave Jimmy Knapp a tremendous reception and Mr Knapp was moved to tears by it. Comradeship, the annual efflorescence of a historically great (though now shrunken) social movement - these are powerfully sentimental things. They do Mr Knapp no service, however, if they cut him off from the drier, meaner world of facts and deals and the way Britain is rather than how it was or might be. As the signallers' strikes go on - this will be the 14th week of disruption - Mr Knapp and his members show no sign of understanding that, for a government that dislikes railways and trade unions almost equally, their actions do not matter. Indeed, the longer the strikes go on, the more they may help realise the cherished Conservative dream of a greatly reduced pattern of railways - a dream that has rightly been resisted by a coalition of lobby groups and constituency interests for the past 15 years.
To judge from the interview on page six, Mr Knapp's faith in a brilliant future for his industry is undented. 'The long-term future of the railways is very bright,' says Mr Knapp. 'If we are going to be an industrialised country in the top league of nations we are going to need an effective transport system.' Well, yes. But has he not noticed that a summer of disruption on the railways has left the British economy largely untouched and that most of British society remains mobile but unmoved, sympathetic to the signallers (as this newspaper is) but a long way from unleashing massive discontent on the Government? Mr Knapp should take up Labour's proposal for settlement by binding arbitration. The strikes are demonstrating the irrelevance of the strikers, the last thing strikes are supposed to do.