In order to give this blog’s leftist readers a bit of a break from matters religious, I’d like to put forward a little industrial affairs conundrum for you to ponder. The question is, who is the bully and who the bullied?
So, last Friday the Asda store on Belfast’s Shore Road sacked one of its checkout workers, William Hunter, for apparently – the story is a bit garbled – telling a driver to play the Sash. It may have been off the cuff for all I know, but wisecracking about the venerable old loyalist song can be harmful to your employment, especially the north’s laws about providing a neutral working environment. The rules, by the way, are not there for no reason – in days of old, some Belfast City Council sites were so heavily festooned with Union Jacks, portraits of the Queen and Rangers FC paraphernalia that they more closely resembled Orange halls than cleaning depots. The story about the man who turned up to a job interview in an orange sash may be apocryphal, but it’s still very plausible.
So anyway, Mr Hunter gets the sack. There then follows four days of protests involving the store being picketed by up to 200 loyalists at any given time. Billy Hutchinson, the former loyalist killer turned politician turned community organiser in our local version of the Big Society, was at the forefront, and so energetic in denouncing Asda for their treatment of Mr Hunter that you would almost think there was an election coming up. Hutchie held forth about how Mr Hunter was a dead nice and well-liked man and not at all sectarian, which makes sense when you consider that Mr Hunter has previous that might cause Hutchie to have some empathy for him.
And so it was that on Tuesday Asda reinstated their errant worker after getting an expression of regret out of him. Presumably Asda’s corporate mind was concentrated by the possibility of an Orange/loyalist boycott.
So my question for the industrial relations experts out there is, who do you support in this scenario? Or do you walk briskly in the other direction with your hands in your pockets and whistling a merry tune? Just be sure you don’t whistle the Sash.
And while we’re on cultural symbolism, out in Tyrone the farmboys are giving the post boxes a makeover.