The Way We Were...

Dusty action down among the onions

"I've got a note for you, Mummy!" Hilary whooped out of the school gates, trailing her duffle coat dustily behind her.

 

"I'll read it for you," she continued, studying the type-written paper in her hand, "It says Party Clothes for School." "Let me see," I said, unconvinced. Hilary's reading sometimes owes more to Look and Guess than Look and Say. In fact the note reads Partial Closure of School - the teachers' strike had finally reached our infants school.

 

As the note informed me, only certain classes were affected; while Hilary's teacher was apparently one of the militants, Anne's was not. It was not pure pessimism on my part to foresee complications in explaining this turn of events to my girls.

 

"Hilary's not going to school on Wednesday?" Anne exclaimed, "Why not? She's not ill or anything, is she?" "No," I agreed, "but she can't go to school because her teacher won't be there." "Why won't she?? Where is she going?" "Nowhere, really. She's, well, she's on strike that day."

 

"On strike! What does that mean?" 

 

 "It's a form of protest. The teachers want an increase in their London weighting..."

 

"Waiting for what?" Hilary wanted to know. I tried again. "They want to be paid extra for being teachers in Greater London because it's such an expensive place to live."

 

"Do you mean," Anne asked, horrified, "that our teachers get paid  for teaching us?" I had to laugh at the look of disillusion on her face. "Of course they do. What did you think?" "I thought," said Anne, sadly, "that they did it because they love us..."

 

We walked in silence for a few minutes, then: "Why is Hilary's teacher stricken and not mine?"  

 

"Striking, not stricken," I corrected her, though the grumblings of mothers worrying about taking time off work or making alternative arrangements for their strike-bound offspring make me wonder if Anne might be proved right.

 

"Striking, then," Anne replied with a pained look which silently accused me of being pedantic, "Why are some of the teachers on strike but not others?" "I expect it's because they don't all belong to the teachers' union." "See!" Hilary is exultant, "My teacher belongs to an onion but your teacher doesn't!" "I don't care," retorted Anne, stubbornly, "My teacher doesn't want to be in your teacher's onion..."

 

"Union!" I raised my voice above the uproar, "It's union, not onion..." My daughters, glaring at each other in open warfare, paid no attention. "My teacher wouldn't belong to your teacher's opinion anyway,"  said Anne with an expressively haughty shrug, "Because she's Australian!" Her reasoning leaves Hilary floundering.

 

They returned to the subject over the tea table. "What's a union?" They wanted to know. I rack my brains for easy explanations. "A union," I began, hesitantly, "is made up of lots of people who do the same work, like teachers, who band together to make sure they have good working conditions and enough pay. Then, sometimes, if they can't get what they want, they start industrial action."

 

 "What's dusty action?" they asked, fascinated. "Well, going on strike is one way of taking industrial  action," I told them. "We're back to that old strike again," Anne said with a melodramatic sigh. "Do you belong to a union, Mummy?" Hilary queried. "They don't have unions for mothers," I said. "They do! They do!" Anne cried, "Andrea's mother belongs to one at their church, it's called the Mothers Union!"

 

I had a sudden vision of the Mothers Union downing their coffee cups and knitted squares and demanding fewer pews to  dust and a share of the collection plate. "It's not that type of Union," I attempted to explain, "The Mothers Union is a kind of club for mothers." My daughters were not listening. Hilary, in particular, was looking decidedly worried. "Don't join the Mothers Union," she begged me, "and don't you go on strike as well." I promised her I wouldn't "Mothers don't go on strike," I reassured her quickly.

 

Not that my devotion to duty will do anything to ease the current economic crisis, I suppose; still my daughters seem extremely relieved that I, at least, have no intention of taking "dusty action."

 

 Slough Evening Mail - 1972

 

 

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Latest comments

26.10 | 14:21

Mmm, was it because there were '24 men kicking a ball' that it didn't end entirely satisfactorily???

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15.10 | 11:13

I don't remember seeing this first time round.... but thank you for sharing with me. You write beautifully, and brought a tear to my eyes. Lots of love xx

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10.10 | 21:37

Jaqui I think your grandchildren are very lucky. You have spurred me on to write a letter to Amelia who like Hazel is away from home for the first time. 💕

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03.07 | 22:43

Wouldn't have missed it for the world. xx

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