Sunday, January 31, 2010
This story was published today in the 5 minute fiction column of Issue 79 of Shift Miner Magazine. This was actually the first story I wrote for Shift Miner to go with my pitch to the editor. The original story was too long. Cutting it down was a lot of work, and during the process I wrote and submitted Lifting Point instead; and then another, and another.
This story is based on legends I've heard (but not experienced first-hand) of the "old days", and the battles that once raged between unions and mining companies. As usually, it's fiction, and it's primary purpose is entertainment. If you don't get a chuckle, then it hasn't worked. It does make a statement however; and I hope it will be received as "fair enough" from those on both sides of the divide.
None and Buckley's
“The strike is about the hot water system in the bath house,” said Darren. “It stopped working just as the night shift were completing their showers this morning.”
"Just as they were finishing?" said Prop, smiling. He leaned back in his chair in the corner of Darren's office and put his hands behind his head.
Darren tried not to show his irritation: this was not a joke. "Yes," he said. "As they were finishing their showers, the water went cold. The oncoming crew has refused to go to work. They will be voting shortly on whether to extend industrial action for a twenty-four hour period or to return to work."
Prop nodded. "And you want to stop them taking the twenty-four?"
Darren threw his clipboard down onto the table. "Yes, of course I do!"
Darren had been Mine Manager of Montrose Colliery for only two weeks. Today was his first confrontation with the union on site, and he was determined to win this battle. Prop would be an invaluable asset in achieving this. While Darren was an underground cleanskin, Prop knew the operation inside out. He'd worked his way up through the ranks from an operator to a deputy and then an undermanager before being promoted to Deputy Mine Manager two years ago.
Prop smiled again. "We can have a chat with the reps; but you've got two chances of stopping this strike today."
"And those are?"
"None and Buckley's"
Darren wasn't amused. "Do you think this is a joke? This throws the entire coal chain into havoc. And for what? A health and safety matter? No, for cold showers!"
Prop leaned forward and placed his hands on the desk. "Look," he said. "I know the boys have got away with blue murder in the past; but it's been a game with rules broken by both sides for years. If you really want to fix that, then I'm with you all the way."
Darren smiled. "Good," he said. "Then how do we get them to back down?"
Prop shook his head. "Today is a lost cause," he said. "Take it on the chin. Give it a week or two to calm down, and then set up a meeting with you, me and the union reps down at the Golf Club. We'll play the back nine, then go to the bar and really get to understand each other."
Darren brought his fist down onto the table. It made his clipboard jump, but not Prop. Darren's voice was a rough whisper. "Whose side are you on, anyway?"
Prop shook his head as he stood up. "Come out with me to the car park."
"Are you threatening me?"
Prop laughed. "If I wanted a dust-up, I'd deck you right here," he said. He stopped smiling. "You're not going to stop this strike today. Come and I'll show you why."
Darren took a deep breath and let it out slowly, forcing himself to calm down. He saw a Willy Wagtail through his window sitting in the tree beside his office. He envied that bird for a moment: no worries except wagging his tail and catching the next insect. He turned to Prop and nodded, then walked out the door.
Out in the car park, the mine workers were gathered in the far corner, watching them suspiciously.
"Have a look," said Prop, "and tell me what's different today."
Darren looked around. "Apart from 'D' Crew standing around, instead of cutting coal?" he said. His voice was bitter. Prop didn't reply as Darren kept looking, trying to work out what was different. When he saw it, he wondered how he'd missed it. He turned to face Prop. "Why have they all taken their boats to work?" At least half the vehicles in the car park had a boat on a trailer behind them.
Prop smiled. "They're heading for the coast" he said. "They'll have agreed to take a long weekend a long time before they turned up this morning. You won't stop 'em."
Darren felt his jaw go slack. "This sort of thing can't go on." He thought things over, as they stood quietly in the morning sun. Then he laughed. "We'll leave this go for today, Prop," he said, "but I want you to set up a day at the Golf Club, like you talked about. We need to sort something out that works for everyone."