The first LNER train I booked on Sunday from Durham to London was cancelled due to ‘action short of a strike’. I hadn’t heard the phrase before, but I instantly admired it. It’s so impressively confusing. With a strike, you know whose side you’re on. You can look up the salary of a train driver, for instance, discover that it’s £70,000 after only a few years of training, and become icily indifferent to their plight. But action short of a strike? What is it?
Action short of a strike, ASOS, turns out to be an ingenious way of screwing your boss while still getting paid. ‘It means members can incorporate strike action into their daily working life,’ says TESSA, the Transport Salaried Staff Association. Simply work the bare minimum and the inevitable result is confusion and delay, as the Fat Controller used to say, and as I found out on the second train I booked.
About an hour after that train left Durham it slowed and stopped in a field. ‘There’s been a failure on the electric line,’ said the loudspeaker, ‘but don’t worry. The driver will start up the diesel engine.’ A few minutes later the train began to move again. ‘See?’ I said to my seven-year-old. ‘What do I always tell you? You’re lucky. In the old days, we would have sweltered here for hours, no back-up engine, no phones.’ I never miss an opportunity to tell my son how much worse it was in the old days. He finds it uplifting.
Shortly after that, the train stopped dead just as it was leaving Thirsk station. The lights went off, the sockets died, the air con failed and the temperature began to rise.