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  • Matthew Davies

On Strike

Last week in the UK saw three days of train strikes. Industrial action to this extent is not particularly common, with around 15 major work stoppages per year, over the last decade or so, but when it happens, it can be extremely disruptive.


Ultimately, that's the point of it. If a union or a group of workers take collective action that doesn't inconvenience people, then it'll largely go unnoticed and be ineffective in helping them push for the changes that they seek.

Last week I was due to be working down in London and Newcastle during the week, but these sessions were moved online to support delegates who would have had to use trains to travel to the offices for the sessions. On Saturday, however, I was facilitating a session which did require an overnight trip to London. Travel on the Friday was absolutely fine - it was not a day of action for the RMT - but my return travel on the Saturday required a train to the airport and that proved to be an impossibility. As such, I had to taken an Uber, on roads which were much busier than usual due to displaced rail travellers, to make it to the airport on time.


I have no problem with strike action, even when it inconveniences me. It can be frustrating to have to rethink your journey, pay more than you'd expected, etc, but I understand the importance of collectivism and I recognise that many of the things we take for granted around the structure of our work life, and the benefits we enjoy, have been hard won by unions and their action. It should never be a race to the bottom - we should support other workers in different industries to fight for pay and conditions, even if we are not afforded those same benefits in our own.


The journey of almost two hours, was considerably slower than the expected train trip, but I gave myself plenty of time to make it and it had the advantage of giving me an opportunity with no expectations or distractions, to think and reflect, firstly on the work I'd just completed (an incredibly engaging and emotive session, using the Lego Serious Play methodology, looking at the impacts of Covid 19 on the lives of a group of medical professionals) but also on how the removal of a service (such as through a strike) can impact people much more than expected. As Joni Mitchell taught us, we often don't appreciate what we have until it's gone.


One of the things that came to me on the journey was the recognition that each of us has people in our lives, both professionally and personally, who if they were to go 'on strike' would have a massive impact on us. And very often, these are people who are so solid, so dependable and reliable, that we take them for granted and can lack gratitude for their contribution.


In my personal life, my mother-in-law falls into that category. She looks after Harper two afternoons a week and she and my father-in-law take Harper overnight most weeks on a Friday. If they decided to withhold that service, we'd be in a huge bind. Of course, as with my Uber to the airport, we'd find a way through the challenge, but that doesn't change the fact that Janis is a huge help to us.


Professionally, the system in which I operate became a lot smaller since I left a huge organisation to venture out on my own and the relationships I have with associate firms and clients are the lifeblood of my business, so it's harder to identify anyone where I've let things get to this stage. Despite this, the reflection is really useful in reminding me of the importance of gratitude and care. I need to regularly audit those relationships and look for any where there's imminent threat of a strike and consider what I might need to do to prevent it or to stop things from getting to that stage.


In my hobbies it is an all too familiar challenge. British American Football has long suffered from leadership dysfunction of different forms. Mismanagement, disappearing money, inexperience, people spreading themselves too thin and balls being dropped are all commonplace. But there are still an awful lot of great people who have been involved with the running of our sport and who have done an admirable job, with limited resources. One thing that's been a theme through the decade and a half I've been involved, has been the terrible way in which these volunteers have been treated by the membership. Every error, every decision that goes against what a member would do under the same circumstances, is responded to with a barrage of abuse, with accusations ranging from ineptitude, to dishonesty, to poor moral character. Personal abuse against people who give up their time, largely unpaid, to allow us all to play, coach and officiate the sport we love. And after a while, those in charge eventually grow weary of it all and go one stage further than a strike -they walk away for good, setting the sport back further.


Take some time today to reflect on who in your life is valuable to you. Personally or professionally, or both. For each, think about when the last time was that you told them and the last time you showed them how much they matter and how valuable their contribution is. And when you find yourself falling short, do something about it.

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