From LABOR-L@YORKU.CA Mon Sep 25 11:21:37 2000
Date: Sun, 24 Sep 2000 23:38:41 -0500
Sender: Forum on Labor in the Global Economy <LABOR-L@YORKU.CA>
From: PK Murphy <pk.murphy@IRELAND.COM>
Subject: Arrogant media stab workers in the back—Ireland
Years ago, when I began in journalism part-time, I worked also as a
mail-car driver delivering, among other things, newspapers. One day my
infant niece asked:
Which do you prefer—delivering the papers
or writing in them? I answered unequivocally:
Oh, writing in
them, of course.
Nowadays I'm not so sure. Everything has changed, and newspapers more than most—mainly for the worse, but that's for another time. What got me thinking about my niece's question was the media's response to two recent occurrences: the Irish Locomotive Drivers' Association's (ILDA) midsummer strike and the hauliers' protests of recent weeks.
I was struck in both instances by the media hostility towards those in dispute, and the resulting failure to give a fair hearing to the issues.
To begin, the national media had little interest in the train- drivers' dispute. After all, it only affected the west of Ireland, and who gives a sugar what happens down there, eh? When the dispute began to bite in Dublin, however, journalists became exercised in the public interest, and began denouncing ILDA actions and the personality of ILDA spokesman Brendan Ogle.
Mr Ogle imagined that the ILDA's case would stand or fall on its
intrinsic merits, and that the media would provide a conduit for the
exchange of views and information relating to these. He failed to
comprehend that the first two principles of Irish media are:
have the power and we will use it as we please; and
not make life difficult in Dublin 4. He also failed to understand
that, being momentarily frustrated in the O'Flaherty affair, the
media wanted to make an example of someone.
I know about railways, having as a callow youth spent several years working for CIÉ. I know several of the drivers in the ILDA dispute, and they are decent, hard-working and conscientious men. I know also that the railways have become increasingly dangerous, that only the grace of God has prevented a disaster, and that when accidents happen the locomotive drivers get it in the neck. Safety issues are therefore as central to the thinking of a driver as to that of a pilot or brain surgeon.
It should be a source of disquiet to this society that anyone who has not the support of the media, regardless of the merits of their case, will never carry the day. Nobody has to listen to those who are not supported by the massed choruses of Middle Abbey Street, D'Olier Street and Montrose.
Media hostility towards the ILDA may have had something to do with the personality of Brendan Ogle, who was a bit too lippy, spirited and intelligent for his own good. But something more fundamental was going on also.
I remember, when I first went to work as a clerk in the goods office in Claremorris railway station, the deep feelings of inadequacy that came to visit one in the company of locomotive drivers. I remember the names, with something of the same sense of awe, of Finbar Masterson, Hughie Dawson and Christy Hunt, the godlike men who drove the iron horses along the permanent way, whose skill and sense of calling rendered pathetic the scratching with biros on invoices that was my daily lot. And yet, the emerging culture of the company was that clerks were the superior grades, the officer class from which sections of management were drawn.
This suggests itself as a parable of the media's relationship with the ILDA, and indeed also with the truckers. The modern media operative, twirling a computer mouse, feels deeply threatened on being confronted with men who are prepared to stand by their principles to protect their passengers or feed their families, and who earn their bread by the sweat of their backs.
Much as it may grieve me to say so, I have to admit that whether my
column, or indeed this newspaper, appears every Monday is not a matter
of life or death, or anything like it. The world could survive just
fine for quite a while without any of it. But a world without trains
and lorries would rapidly disintegrate. This annoys media people, who
like to think they alone should have the power to bring governments
and states to their knees. It also renders visible something media
people are anxious to conceal: that despite all the blather about the
technological society, what makes the world go around is not,
by and large, technology or information but, the honest toil of real
There has always been in this society an anti-intellectual bias, and that remains. But these days it is accompanied by an even more powerful bias—that of the sedentary classes, comprising mostly those who are themselves just one generation removed from manual labour—against the kind of people whose taxes put them through college.
In addition, of course, there is an ideological prejudice born of
profound disappointment. It has been noticeable that even left-wing
journalists, who might have been expected to lionise such sterling
representatives of the working class, denounced the ILDA drivers for
the alleged unreasonableness of their cause and even what was termed
the grandiosity of their claim to the title
These journalists who nowadays throw their lot in with managements and governments to kick working men into the ground, have in the past, almost without exception, pledged their allegiance to the working classes. The trouble is that the prescription they offered - a socialist society—has been comprehensively rejected by the very people it was designed to liberate.
The proletariat has been a deep disappointment to most liberal- lefties, and now they seek to take their revenge. One can only hope that, on crawling out of bed to write these treacherous attacks on decent working men, they remembered to turn backwards the portraits of Marx above their beds.