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“Just what sort of agent provocateur have we got here?” The boss’s question hung in the air unanswered. I kept looking at my file, aware of all eyes on me. I was hoping Vernon would answer first. After all, Vernon was head of department, one of the boss’s right hand men, and he’d hired the ‘agent provocateur’ in question in the first place. I’d sat in on the interviews of course, but I’m just the personnel guy, the human resources clone who jumps when all the managers say ‘jump’. I just hope I jump high enough most of the time. This time I knew I hadn’t. This time, we all hadn’t jumped high enough. We were all culpable. But I knew they’d try to pin the blame on me. Unable to take the suffocating silence any longer I looked up. The boss, Bill McClelland, General Secretary of one of the biggest unions in the country, sat peering over his large desk like some myopic Chinese Emperor from the Sixth Dynasty. I shrugged my shoulders at him. This was risking his wrath, of course, but I was beyond caring now. I turned to look at Vernon who was standing looking out of the window. He didn’t look happy and I couldn’t blame him. But it wasn’t really his fault, either, although he could have handled himself better. The dull click of a lighter, the metallic snap as its lid closed and the smell of a cigarette brought my attention to Malcolm, the real villain of the piece if you ask me. If it
They were not called ‘union barons’ for nothing. bold embarrassing letters. both were now well past their sell-by dates. intellectual analysis of a metal ingot. for the boss to show anger with one of his most trusted lieutenants. That. . Malcolm’s moustache. There must be something really interesting outside. maybe. This was a really bad sign. I tried to suppress a smirk. Malcolm bent down to retrieve the scattered paper. He had a lot to answer for. to deny he was responsible. every inch of the way. This was a dying industry and the dinosaurs at the top. “He’s just a little bastard. “That little bastard. That’s the moment I decided I hated him. he was the boss’s chief enforcer. but he was a tough bastard and he would fight tooth- 2 and-nail. or Vernon just didn’t want to be next. were dying too. running a parallel existence alongside the casino capitalism that it tried hard to rein in. I noticed Vernon studiously looking out the window. It was all a joke.” the boss said. “Read it!” the boss commanded when Malcolm had settled back down in his chair.For the Greater Good wasn’t for Malcolm’s domineering macho-management we wouldn’t be in this mess.” Malcolm announced. and that I was in the wrong job. It seemed a suitable symbol for the union’s diminishing stature and power. hated them all. I watched him take a drag on his ciggie and smooth the hairs of his alpha male moustache – alpha male in the union glory days of the 1970s. running the union like a medieval fiefdom. the paper’s headline staring him in the face in big. with all the insightful. “has got our names all over the papers!” He threw one of the newspapers over his desk at Malcolm. That was Malcolm all over: cold steel. Feudalism was alive and well. Malcolm. Hard as nails.
If he hadn’t pushed Charlie around we wouldn’t have had the harassment complaint. “You cheeky…” Malcolm began as he sprung out of his seat. which was what Malcolm was to Bill. “Union faces strike on own doorstep. “There’s no point fighting amongst ourselves.” That was brave of Vernon. “A strike. I guess. “Steady!” The boss cut Malcolm off. We’ve got to think of a way through this. his tone that of an owner calling off his attack dogs.” Bill slammed his fist down hard on the desk.” 3 . not the victims. We’re supposed to be the organisers of bloody strikes.” the boss said. always a politico. “It’s Malcolm’s fault. Once a politico. Brave or foolish. He was looking at the boss now. guests coming in from all over Europe as it’s the bloody conference on cross-border solidarity.” Malcolm read. I looked at Vernon. I’d never seen him move so fast as he did then. on our own fucking doorstep!” the boss bellowed. and what have I got? A fucking strike from my own workforce. “I’ve a General Council meeting next week. Bill. ready to chin old Vernon. and I doubted whether it would be such a sorry loss. I want us united. The ciggies would kill him soon.For the Greater Good Malcolm coughed as he cleared his throat. “Read it louder. I thought. Malcolm mumbled something inaudible. as I waited for the coming retaliatory onslaught. Vernon’s fascination with whatever was going on outside had stopped. It was funny really. I thought. At a time of crisis for the union the boss’s two most trusted henchmen couldn’t pass up the chance to stab each other in the back.
The old bruiser was dying for a fight. Malcolm. As soon as I heard myself speak I regretted it. The boss.” . “It’s all our fault. sod him. take all these witness statements from people who saw what happened. They signed up to fight this shit. I’ve had enough and I can’t work with these people any longer. I’d just dug a great big hole for myself and was now lying uncomfortably in it.For the Greater Good Malcolm sat down again. We sack the sod for complaining. And then we act all surprised and hurt when our man complains. And what do we do? We give them a report so whitewashed it’s a fair candidate for the fucking Booker Prize. And not just any people. I’m just going to tell it to them straight. surprising myself. 4 It was your pursuit of Charlie across the office that set this whole thing off. I could see his hands curled up into fists already.” I said at last. it’s true. Then what do we do? We set up a sham investigation where me and poor Vernon here have to listen to all these grievances.” I continued. “Well. Malcolm almost raised himself from his chair but thought better of it. Well. hate-filled eyes shooting Vernon a thousand deaths by daggers. “Vernon’s right. mind. Do you know how many complaints of harassment I had about your behaviour? Fucking loads. And now we’ve played right into his hands. I thought. union people! People who are fucking dedicated to the cause. And what do we do then? Do we admit a mistake? Show some contrition? No. who didn’t sign up to see their own colleagues bullied and harassed. course we don’t. There’s no point looking like you’re going to chin me. Vernon and Malcolm were all glaring at me.
Then he started to give us a kicking too. This was why the boss had asked the question about the agent provocateur. “You’re the human resources man. his beady little eyes boring away into my soul. I stood up and went over to pour myself a glass of water.” he began. They were the reason why the union was facing all this 5 embarrassment.For the Greater Good I swallowed hard. demanding the reinstatement of one of their colleagues who dared to call our bluff and called our report into the original allegations of Malcolm’s bullying what it was. That’d be a first for him. polluting me even more than he had already: I used to be a . leaving the three most powerful men in the union to absorb what I’d said. My hand was shaking as I poured.” Vernon and I looked at each other. Just wait until those pickets were outside. “Bollocks!” was Malcolm’s reply. “I have to say I’m very disappointed in you. Maybe that’s why Vernon was staring out of the window a lot. All this was bad. more committed to their pensions than their principles. But somebody had to tell the boss some home truths and Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee certainly weren’t going to. They were just ‘yes’ men now. but we hadn’t even begun to speak about the worst bit. And it hadn’t even started yet. This was some speech I gave vent to and I was trembling. why didn’t you do the investigations properly? If you’d written the report right we could have got away with it. a ‘whitewash’. They owed their entire careers to the boss but they’d gone stale over the years. The boss saw the look. of course. Perhaps he was imagining what it was going to be like having to cross a union picket line.
” “Look.” I looked the boss directly in the eyes. I had no option but to stand my ground.” he was saying. we’ve fucked up. “You’ve let us down. My knees shook in fear. . Now he’s funding our man’s legal case.For the Greater Good principled man. he’d been gunning for Bill for a while and was enjoying the misfortune that had blown up in Bill’s face. “We’ve handed ammunition on a plate to your rival. I just think we sacked a decent. I’d reinstate him and make peace with the man who would be king. Malcolm spat a tirade of tobacco-smelling industrial language into my face along with his spittle. We should never have sacked him. I don’t mind admitting it.” Then I mentioned the elephant in the 6 room. “we’ve fucked it up. Was he an agent provocateur from the outset? I don’t know. The conspiracy theorists were speculating whether the complainant we’d sacked was one of his plants but I didn’t think so. “As I was saying.” Malcolm said. We should have sacked Malcolm. to be honest. “This is civil war. We weren’t expecting that.” I said. smiling like a man being led to the gallows. A regional union boss with his own power base and followers.” I sat down.” I said. believe it or not. The ‘man who would be king’ was Bill’s chief critic and rival from within. genuinely committed guy who complained about what he saw and who refused to back down. He’s gone off like a fireworks display. Even when Vernon and I made it clear he would lose his job if he didn’t back down he stuck to his guns. “This is war. But if I was you. “I thought you were going to handle his dismissal quietly. “Correction. finishing his invective with a customary threat. I looked around for a table to hide behind but he was too quick.” Malcolm was on his feet now and striding my way.
firing people who were prepared to stand up and challenge injustice. “Do what you want. Off-therecord.” Vernon said. and before I reached my office to clear my desk I was already speed dialling a journalist with more insider information. But in Bill’s room that night. Here I was. to fight for what they believed in. “Ride out the storm. And it took the firing of an innocent to make me realise this. As I walked out the door I determined to take a ringside seat.” Bill was saying. That’s what I hoped for anyway. That’s why I leaked details of what had really happened to the press. I was happy that our ‘agent provocateur’ was being backed to the hilt by Bill’s rival. THE END . With any luck the scandal would topple Bill and it would all play out for the best long-term interests of the union.” And with that I walked out. “Tough it out. I couldn’t be sure that would be the case. “I quit.For the Greater Good 7 That’s when it all became clear to me. of course. that I’d lost perspective. Secretly.” I said. on the eve of an intra-union civil war. What sort of union man did that make me? I’d become corrupted.” Malcolm said. “What shall we do? I’ll do no deals with him. turning my back on the union and looking forward to the fireworks that would explode all around the strike the following week.
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