Tuesday, May 24, 2005

A Moral Dilemma

Watching the television last night, I found myself pointing aggressively at the unfamiliar face of the newscaster and hissing the word 'scab'. It was like being transported back in time to the dark days of the late nineteen seventies, when just about every working man was on strike for one reason or another, when the rubbish remained uncollected and rotting corpses littered the streets of England.

Journalists and technicians at the BBC are currently in dispute with the corporation over imminent cost-cutting redundancies and their unions are aggrieved at the lack of consultation being offered, with the consequence that programmes last night were disrupted and many of the usual news presenters refused to work.

As I wallowed in nostalgia, watching scenes of banner-wielding pickets outside BBC HQ, I was reminded of a job I did with my then crewmate, Fred Ventricle, and the moral dilemma it forced us to confront and resolve.

Fred and I were sent to Solomon's Candle Factory for a middle-aged male who had been injured while operating some piece of heavy machinery and had sustained very nasty wounds to both legs. When we arrived at the factory gates we were met by a group of men holding placards that expressed such sentiments as "10% NOW!" and "A FAIR WAGE FOR A FAIR DAY'S WORK!", &c. My personal favourite read, "2% OF NOTHNG IS NOTHING! WE WANT 10%!".

Fred and I approached the men and explained the situation. Obviously, no union member should ever be prepared to cross a picket line, so we asked if they would bring the injured man to the gates and we would take him from there. This sounded like a fair compromise to me, but there was an unforeseen complication. The injured man, you see, was none other than David Solomon himself, grandson of Mordecai who begat Jacob, and the current proprietor of the company, who had been trying to keep production going by himself and consequently now lay bleeding to death alone and unaided on the factory floor.

The burly shop steward told us that they would not prevent us from crossing the line if we really thought we must, but that the decision must be ours. We took out our tobacco tins and were weighing our options when a door banged open and a man staggered out into the yard, collapsing about thirty feet from us. His legs and feet were bare of both clothing and skin, and blood was flowing from him, quickly forming a thick pool on the cobbles beneath him. He raised his head slightly and called out weakly for help.

Questions flooded my mind. To cross the line and help the factory owner or to show solidarity with our brother workers at the gate? Was class betrayal a price we were prepared to pay to save the life of one capitalist exploiter? Can the impartiality we are trained to hold really transcend the wider political struggle? I looked to Fred for guidance but he just continued to roll a cigarette as he chatted to the pickets. For Fred, I think, there never were any moral questions, just welcome opportunities to avoid doing some work.

When he'd smoked his roll-up, we wished the men good luck with their dispute and drove off to get a nice hot breakfast, for they were simpler times back then and you knew which side you were on.