When communalism meets the retail sector

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.


  1. July 22, 2010 at 12:25 am

    That looks terribly like an Arsenal Shirt being worn by one of the postbox painters.

  2. Terry McDemott said,

    July 22, 2010 at 10:31 am

    The imagery on top of the Ogra site is priceless- the ‘who’s afraid of a united Ireland’ section. Do they know that the ‘ER’ is still on the post boxes down south?

  3. Garibaldy said,

    July 22, 2010 at 7:40 pm

    I see reading Connolly still not on the young provos education programme.

    Regarding the main past of the post. I presumed this was an off the cuff joke, and my initial response was that the sacking was over the top. Although the circumstances may well have been more sinister/intimidating for those involved. Without more info, it’s hard to come to a conclusion, regardless of the background of the person involved.

  4. acknefton said,

    July 23, 2010 at 1:29 pm

    re main post
    as an IR issue, unless the individual had a disciplinary record with warnings on his file dismissal seems disproportionate

    presumably even if he was in a union ( USDAW?) this got a quicker result than a tribunal procedure that wold have gone on forever.

    Wonder would/ should a checkout operator in Dunnes in dundalk have been sacked for making egregious comments like
    “meath won fair and square last sunday week”

  5. July 23, 2010 at 6:07 pm

    I agree with Garibaldy. Originally I thought the grounds for sacking the man seemed rather tenuous and I was just a bit depressed that the PUP were making it into a tribal issue rather than focusing on the industrial relations aspect. The facts are patchy at best, though; perhaps he had a history of this sort of thing, maybe it wasn’t an off the cuff remark etc. It’s hard to know.

  6. andy newman said,

    July 23, 2010 at 7:52 pm

    Painting the postbox green was a long tradition in one or two South Devon villages in the 1980s, for non-political reasons I think.

  7. De Northside Socialist said,

    July 23, 2010 at 10:01 pm

    “Green was adopted as the standard colour for the early Victorian post boxes.”
    “The first boxes to be painted red were in London in July 1874, although it would be nearly 10 years before all the boxes had been repainted.[3]”


    Someone should tell the Tyrone boys that green was the original colour of the British Post Office post boxes. Perhaps, another colour from the tricolour would be more appropriate emmmm Orange??

    “Let me take you to the Island, where Tyrone boys dream of loving on the strand
    Oh the Island, where we trampled on the outstretched hand.”

    p.s. Nice to see you’ve eased off the Father Ted stuff, at least for one or two blogs.

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