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The invisible strike and the Entitlement Illusion

Last week saw Londoners finding their travel even more difficult because of Thursday’s Tube strike. While the melting ice caps were drowning the countryside, the media’s focus on the inconvenience to travellers and the losses to business in the bustling capital was uninterrupted. The thing is, that in Britain we just don’t see the striking worker at all, unless it’s a juicy revelation of a union boss caught on candid camera on the beach so we can hiss “Shame on you!” and have a good moan about how insincere strikers are.

Le Monde’s UK correspondent thinks it’s odd. Despite our enviable freedoms, the working classes hardly count as enfranchised, suggests Eric Albert in “Surtout, n’en parlez pas” (for heavens sake don’t mention it), observing that there is never any sympathy shown towards strikers in Britain.  Of course not, mon ami, the Entitlement Illusion has given us cultural and historical amnesia to social reality checking.

So here below are a few memory jolters. Readers, please gather your children round the screen because these are some of the historical facts that Govism will never have on his traditional values curriculum:

  • It is 200 years since we defeated Napoleon and could get down to really concentrating on developing our dark satanic mills that, together with her unchallenged sea-power, fuelled Britain’s globalised industrial supremacy and gave the 19th century the name ‘The British Century.’ This culminated in the greatest worldwide gap between rich and poor ever known, called ‘The Age of Privilege.’
  • The appalling conditions of 19th century industrial labour meant that we no longer needed to be dependent on African slaves to keep the cash coming into the top drawers. First among nations to ban slavery – apart from those who had never taken it up – we proudly paid vast sums to compensate investors in slavery (including to David Cameron’s ancestors) but not of course to the slaves – see my Chapter 9 and the Guardian.
  • Until less than 100 years ago, the right to vote belonged to the male half of the country, and before that only to property owners. The gentry had income-bearing land and staff to support it; the craftspeople had their Guilds. But working men and women were entirely unrepresented.
  • The rank poverty and near slavery at home gave rise to Dickens’ novels but also the Trade Unions, that were first decriminalised in 1867 by a Royal Commission, which agreed that unions were to the advantage of both employers and employees.
  • By the beginning of the 20th century, Europe and America was beset by growing unrest at the inequalities in society. Led by liberal intellectuals, anarchy, and, more seriously, international socialism, threatened to disrupt the concept of the nation state and the Age of Privilege. But the workers mostly failed to rise up, preoccupied with staying alive and scrabbling for rights to reduce 12 hour days. Their Wounded Leaders seduced them back in nationalism and millions marched willingly to the sacrifice on the killing fields of Belgium. The nation state and privilege survived.
  • With the modern age running on fossil fuels, miners were deemed essential workers, not supposed to pause from their ghastly labours. Striking miners suffered tremendous violence for wanting better conditions or keeping their jobs; Churchill led the way and Thatcher finished them off.

The tremendous media sympathy towards anyone who has been inconvenienced by a strike, argues our French journalist, ensures minimal media coverage of the strikers and their demands. He points out that there was even no event to mark that a 2012 strike by middle-class doctors ever took place. “They have invented the invisible strike,” he says. The British are used to it, but he still finds it shocking. How selfish of them to strike, “holding the country to ransom,” is our cliché.

Just like the boarding culture, we have normalize such attitudes under the Entitlement Illusion.

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