Most of our songs are pretty easy to understand, but people sometimes ask about Funky Lol’s Picket Line (from This Band Is Sick). It was written by Steve, but it’s got my name in it. Here’s what it’s all about.
It’s a true story from 5 years ago. I was working at a Further Education college in London. We were on a national strike over extra pension contributions. It meant an effective pay cut of £500-£1000 per year for each of us – worth fighting against.
The college was open from 7am-11pm. We had an uneventful picket line in the morning, when most staff and students would have been going in (few did). The strike continued, but the picket line rota wound down early to allow many of the strikers to attend a union event in central London.
I discovered to my surprise that the local Labour Party were planning to hold a fund-raising dinner in the college’s training restaurant that night, with Shadow Minister Caroline Flint as guest speaker. I passed a message to a prominent local Party member, assuming that they would want to postpone the event to support us. His reaction was non-committal. So I went to Labour’s constituency office and rang the bell. I had to speak to an intercom: “Will Caroline Flint cross our picket line tonight?” They invited me in and took my details, but did nothing. Later, I was phoned by the local MP’s agent. He had a superior tone and seemed mildly irritated.
Eventually, I began to realise that I’d have no choice but to reassemble the picket line. I made a couple of phone calls, sent texts and started walking up the road to the college. As I was walking, I got a call from the MP, Stella Creasy. She bent my ear for fully 19 (nineteen) minutes. Whenever I tried to speak, she interrupted with, “No, listen…”
She told me that she had known about the strike a week in advance. She had checked with the Principal of the college (“spoke to the wrong fella”), who doubted that we would continue it into the evening (“said it would be over by tea time”). He was wrong, of course (“you know a strike’s all day when you’re losing a day’s pay”). She hadn’t bothered to check with us. Either we were unimportant to her, or she didn’t want to hear the answer we would have given.
Anyway, she made me an offer: if we let the dinner go ahead, she would invite one of our pickets to cross our picket line. They could then explain to the diners who had crossed our picket line why they shouldn’t have crossed our picket line. Okay, read that again. Got it? Did we accept the offer? As if.
The picket was back in place. By now, we had supporters from the local Trades Council, including the impressive Darren O’Grady (“and don’t forget Darren, standing his ground”), and from other unions, including current members of the band. We were incredulous at the actions of our local Labour Party – the party formed largely from the trade union movement.
Confusion reigned as some people arrived for the dinner. A small number went inside the college. Neil Gerrard, the former MP for the area, turned up and began to help turn people away. There was no sign of Stella Creasy or of Caroline Flint (I discovered months later that the Party feared a photo of a Shadow Minister crossing a picket line). We eventually found out that what was left of the guests, including Creasy and Flint, had gone to an Indian restaurant a few miles away to try to salvage the chaos (“better go for a curry instead”).
We had seen off the disgraceful threat to the strike. We disbanded our picket line and went to the pub (“you know this story ends up in the Rose & Crown”).
Those involved in organising the shambles might consider this: they could have postponed the whole thing a week before the event, held it on another night and raised some funds. Instead, they chose the dishonourable path and lost both money and credibility. And Steve White & The Protest Family gained a dance number.
Top picture: legalcheek.com.