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Guest Post: Café Politics

What follows is a very rare guest post from my partner, and Jasmine and Sonny’s father, James. Whilst all views are very much his own, it is worth pointing out that he is a talented yet unemployed teacher, the latter not due to a lack of effort.

On Thursday morning, we decided to visit Lime Café at St. Paul’s Centre, Worthing.  We like it there; there’s a good choice of food for me and the meat eater, and the coffee is more reasonably priced than the other town centre options.

I have never seen Lime Café so busy at 12:30 on a week day.  Every table was occupied, mostly by women, and I joked that they were probably all striking teachers.  Yes, it was THAT day when industrial action had closed the majority of classrooms.  As I said, I had joked that they were striking teachers.  However, it turned out to be true!  Two women walked in wearing t-shirts bearing the slogan, “Stand up for Education” – then sat down.  Their many, many orders of jacket potatoes and quiche, the endless lattes and cappuccinos, and incessant chatter about anything but the issues that had kept them away from work was starting to make me question their motives.  If they had met at the station and travelled en masse to London to throw eggs at Michael Gove or create a human chain around the Department of Education to close it down for the day, I would have been more sympathetic.  If they had met and demonstrated outside their own schools, it would have been more productive that gossiping over tea and granary sandwiches at Lime Café.

After 45 minutes of discussing the general points of industrial action amongst ourselves, and ignoring many of the glares and hard stares from the strikers around us, we noticed that food orders placed after ours were being brought out.  It wasn’t a case of our complex order taking longer to prepare as we were only waiting for a couple of sandwiches.  Very complicated mezze, ploughman’s lunches and ornately arranged salads were leaving the kitchen, yet our table remained sandwich free.  After 50 minutes, Jen asked if they’d be out soon.  Oh yes, of course, we hadn’t been forgotten, they were very busy, sorry, being dealt with now.  After an hour and ten minutes, I went to ask.  The friendly, busy counter assistant apologised again and grabbed a pad so she could take our order again so that it could be put through to the kitchen – again.  We declined her kind offer and asked for our money back.  We simple didn’t have another hour to spare, and didn’t want to spend any more time listening to disgruntled educators.

I suppose I am making two points here.  The first being that our usually relaxed Lime Café experience was less than enjoyable on this occasion.  Over an hour is not an acceptable waiting time for two simple sandwiches, however nice the coffee is.  It won’t put us off visiting, but I might check how busy it is before ordering next time.  I would suggest that busier days might find us seeking alternative refreshment.  My second point may be slightly more contentious and is purely my own opinion.

Transport, postal and teaching unions have often resorted to industrial action to further their arguments and take their grievances to the next level and a wider audience.  As I naturally lean toward the left of the political spectrum, I would argue any worker’s ideological right to strike all day long.  Sadly, as both communism and capitalism have proved in practise, ideologies that look fit to fulfil every utopian dream on paper rarely succeed when ego, ambition and other human shortfalls interfere.  The management, shareholders, invisible bosses of faceless companies and other spectres of the ruling classes are, for the most part, unaffected by strikes.  The people who make the decisions on pay and conditions may lose a day or two of productivity or profit but have probably made enough from the labour of others to absorb it.  It’s us, the customer/commuter/parent, that are affected.

Do the bosses of the newly privatised postal service care if our Christmas cards are late?

Do the shareholders of Southern Railway shed tears if I have to make other plans?

Is Boris Johnson greatly troubled if I can’t travel from Finchley Central to Oxford Circus on the tube?

What difference does it make to Michael Gove (or the striking teachers themselves) if parents are inconvenienced or lose a day’s wages in order to take care of their kids while the teachers strike?

Industrial action only has an immediate and heavy impact on people who are powerless to address the issues causing the desire to strike.  I have no power whatsoever to increase pay, reduce hours or improve the quality of the coffee in the staff-room vending machine.  I am, however, hit by strike action.  We were not directly affected by the teachers’ strike on Thursday.  Jasmine still loves school, still went to school, and had a good day.  The teachers in Worthing achieved nothing politically, but they did have a nice chat and a delightful lunch – even if their custom caused my sandwich to be forgotten.

James Ellis
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