I’m dying to slap someone, but I can’t, so, I’m afraid, a lot of other people are going to get slapped in her place.
Three hundred thousand people have been affected by wildcat strikes at the height of the summer holiday rush. British Airways staff have come out in support of sacked in-flight catering staff, egged on by the unions, of course.
Now, the unions have their uses and I remember defending them to my father (who, as a small employer, had had a brush with them), years ago, when I was an idealistic teenager, but they can also be incredibly pig-headed and devoid of common sense. I’ve had experience of it.
In February 1986, I was on tour in Paris. I was working as a technical interpreter on a National Theatre show at the Théâtre de l’Odéon. I was interpreting for the French and British lighting crews and things were not going very well. The main NT man was a woman hater (you should have seen his face when he realized he’d be working with me) and the French guy was an impatient boor. I was caught in the middle and had to resist translating the curses that those two men (who couldn’t have been more different and had taken an instant dislike to each other) were uttering under their breath while I was speaking. Still, the set was being built and the play wouldn’t be played in the dark.
And then, late one night, the day before the technical rehearsal, it all came to a head: a few minutes before midnight the French oaf said something; I translated it; the NT chauvinist pig then answered and I’d just started to translate when the French union representative stepped forward and ordered me to stop. Stunned, I uttered one more word…. and the French lighting crew walked out. Nothing anyone said could make them resume work: it was past midnight; they wanted to be paid overtime, but had been told earlier that they wouldn’t be. I hadn’t been warned – I would have told the British crew and advised them not to go beyond midnight – and they used me as an excuse to strike. I’d never been in that position. It was horrible.
Time was of the essence, as always on such tours – there’s never enough time to do everything and one has to work all hours (we worked 40 hours non-stop once) – and the union rep used it to blackmail the theatre administration. The way he did it was shameful.
The following day, they had a meeting, which lasted most of the morning and afternoon thereby reducing the possibility of getting things right even more, and they resumed work grudgingly in the evening. By some miracle the lighting was fine on the night and, as far as the critics and audience were concerned, the tour was a success.
By the way, the actors, one of whom was Ian McKellen, remained totally unaware of what had happened.
A slap to the unions and their flagrant disregard of common sense and of people’s needs, except those of their members.