was a councillor in Merton back in the eighties, a young Tory member accused me
of having been a leading light in the Winter of Discontent locally. Her name
was Teresa May and she was totally wrong.Far
from organising picket rotas, during the winter of 78/79 I was hanging around
the gates of the girls school on my Fizzy, thrashing a punk rock electric
guitar down the youth club and trying to convince my parents that I was
actually working really hard on my O levels.
It wasn’t until a year or two later that I took my first steps on the road of
industrial militancy in the pay disputes in the NHS that swiftly followed the
election of the Thatcher government. That’s where and when I learnt the truths
and the myths of the Winter of Discontent.
An old communist porter, Jack Hensman, now sadly no longer with us, instilled
in met that the victory of Thatcher was nothing to do with the uprising of low
paid public service workers and was everything to do with a Labour government
which chose to make the people doing the dirtiest jobs pay for an economic
crisis not of their making. We had nothing to be ashamed of.
Thatcher recognised the power of organised blue collar workers and bust us
apart with her privatisation policy but that’s another story.
They say that those who fail to learn the lessons of the past are doomed to
repeat the mistakes of the past and that’s the path that Brown and his cabinet
have embarked on with their aim of screwing down public sector pay for the
foreseeable future in the face of the economic turbulence about to engulf them.
This is suicidal stuff. A government that can’t piece together the hard facts
of life of escalating fuel bills, transport costs and the basic essentials of
keeping a roof over your head and food on the table is on a one way ticket to
Palookaville. When Cabinet ministers can’t remember whether or not a hundred
grand passed in and out of their trousers the contempt and derision in the dole
offices, the town halls and on the wards is surely going to turn round and bite
you on the arse at the ballot box.