Riots at Maruti Suzuki halts production

August 17, 2012

Industrialisation has a bloody history of battles between workers and owners. Are the riots in an India car plant a re-run of industrial history?

At least 90 people have been arrested after violent clashes between workers and managers at a Maruti Suzuki factory near the Indian capital, Delhi. A senior factory official died and more than 85 were injured, including two Japanese nationals in the riot. Maruti, India’s biggest car maker, has halted production at the factory.

The blame game

Managers and workers blame each other for starting the clashes, which follow months of troubled labour relations. The violence at the vast factory in Haryana state is believed to have erupted after an altercation between a factory worker and a supervisor.

Workers reportedly ransacked offices and set fires at the height of the violence. It escalated when they tried to take disciplinary action against the employee as other workers protested and blocked all exit gates, preventing senior executives and managers from leaving the factory. The union denied responsibility for the violence and told local media that it was triggered by “objectionable remarks” made by the supervisor.

Leniency a reason for the riots?

The Times of india suggested leniency towards Union bosses was ‘reason for rift among staff’

it appears now that the management of the auto giant may have made a major miscalculation in handling a labour incident only weeks before violence broke out in the factory. [Union leaders were treated in a more lenient way than workers after aggression towards a supervisor].

Meanwhile, the plant remains closed. The company maintains that it is giving high priority to employee safety and is considering several initiatives to scale up safety in the Manesar plant. “In this direction, the company is exploring the best safety measures in terms of equipment, personnel and on ground training for the employees,” the company said in a statement.

The act of unprovoked violence [on July 18th 2012, but July 21st according to some news reports] started without any specific industrial relations issue.

A backdrop of financial losses

The story occurred against a backdrop of losses attributed to increased royalties to Suzuki.

The main reason for the fall was a rise in royalty payments to Japan’s Suzuki, which holds a large stake in Maruti. Analysts said the increase would also affect the carmaker’s future observing: “Raw material costs have been easing but the effect of higher royalty payments will be there in the next few quarters”.

Outside of the increased payments to Suzuki, Maruti performed well during the quarter, “The sudden change in royalty charge overshadows an otherwise strong operating performance,” said Chirag Shah at Emkay Global Financial Services.

A similar pattern of violence

Reuters reported [6th August 2012] that other foreign owned car makers such as Hyundai, and Honda have also experienced troubles at their plants in recent years.

“This is definitely sending a wrong message. Investors will be reluctant,” P. Balendran, vice-president at General Motors’ Indian unit, said of the Manesar violence. “The need of the hour is flexible labour reforms. In 2012 you cannot afford to have a rule which is applicable … from 1956.”

A bone of contention

India’s labour laws, some dating to the 1920s, make it difficult for large companies to fire permanent workers, forcing companies to hire large numbers of contractors – a bone of contention with many unions.

“We knew that something of this sort might happen sooner or later,” said Balendran. “It happened to Suzuki today, tomorrow it could happen to us.”

Latest news

Regardless of the reported stringency of India’s labour laws, the company plans to make 500 employees redundant and will re-open the plant shortly [August 21st 2012]. The challenges to leadership are likely to continue.

News of the World killed off. But who is the prime suspect?

July 8, 2011

The News of the World met a violent and unsuspected death in July 2011. A long list of suspects has been drawn up. Collusion between some of them can not be ruled out

In the early evening of July 7th 2011, Former Editor of The News of the World Rebekah Brooks, and now CEO of the holding group News International, addresses the staff of the NOTW and drops a bombshell. The paper is to end publication after next Sunday’s edition. It is believed that the unsuspecting Editor Colin Myer learned of the decision a few minutes earlier.

The NOTW was in serious trouble over a crisis which had strengthened in intensity over a period of days. But the speculation had concentrated on actions that had taken place when Ms Brooks was editor. The issue seemed to be more on whether Ms Brooks would be held responsible, and therefore would lose her job.


The story had begun to dominate the headlines in the UK for some days. It was summed up in one executive briefing as follows:

It has long been public knowledge that NOTW journalists (and more recently “investigators” acting on their behalf so as to distance the journalists and the paper itself) have had a cosy relationship with certain police officers – a relationship that often crossed over into bribery for tips and other information. It is the brutal release of this information to the wider public and the raising of the matter in Parliament that has at last blown the lid off the NOTW.
The newspaper has been embroiled in a scandal over the hacking into mobile phones and that, too, reached a new level of disgrace when it was revealed this week that the paper’s agents had (allegedly) listened into the calls, and read SMSs, of victims of the London terrorist attacks on 7 July 2007 and to the messages of murdered teenagers.

David Cameron and his chums

The current story has embroiled Prime Minister Cameron who is a close friend on Ms Brooks, and who had also hired another former editor Andy Coulson as his Press Officer on coming to power in 2010. Coulson later resigned for his involvement in some of the phone-tapping allegations.

The sins of the fathers

The announcement may be seen as a case of the sins of the fathers visited on the children. The paper’s current editor and staff claim to have cleaned of the previous culture within the paper.

The major allegations against the paper refer to events that occurred under an earlier regime. These implicated among others Rebekah Brooks and another editor Andy Coulson.

The usual suspects

If the News of the World was killed off, the list of suspects is a long one.

[1] The dynastic founder Rupert Murdoch. Rupert founded News Corp, the global media corporation. A simple view of business leadership would place him as the tycoon at the top of a pyramid with ultimate control over every big decision. His direct influence on political leaders is well-recorded. His capacity to act decisively to innovate and change, and confront potential threats is the stuff of legends. A fall-back plan which would create a new paper is rumoured.

[2] James Murdoch. James, son of Rupert is ascending to his dynastic destiny, and has recently been appointed Chairman of News International, one of News Corps major divisions. Currently embroiled in another battle which would see Sky taken over by News Corp.

[3] Rebekah Brooks currently cast as one of the villains of the piece, for her public escape from blame, and for the endorsements from her Chairman James. But it is the even more evident positive light in which she is held by Rupert which is commonly reported as providing her with job security. Rebekah is a larger-than-life celebrity figure who seems to have collected a lot of enemies as she had progressed in the Murdoch Empire

[4] The Guardian and its editor Alan Rusbridger for campaigning until the story of the NOTW’s assorted practices went viral. Rebekah Brooks is reported to have tearfully told the NOTW staff to ‘blame the Guardian’ for the paper’s demise.

[5] Twitter, Face Book and the Blogosphere
The story trended on Twitter and there will be those who will claim the ‘victory’ for the power of social media damaging the powerful in ways that were not possible a few years ago.

[6] The advertisers who announced plans to withdraw support from the NOTW

Distributed Leadership?

We should not look too hard for a prime suspect in this case. There is no single ‘cause’. Nor is it clear whether there was a single leader of a cabal to bring down the paper. The notion of distributed leadership seems worth considering.


The Mail, in its own inimitable style recounts the 168 year old history of the News of the World.

The nuclear crisis in Japan and why your creativity is needed

March 17, 2011

Tudor Rickards

Many people in and outside Japan believe that Japanese people are not particularly creative. This is a fallacy. There is plenty of contrary evidence from its great companies. However, its culture is more disposed to incremental creativity rather than to radical breakthrough ideas. This becomes important in its response to crises. The Fukuyama nuclear crisis demonstrates the need for creative actions.

Over the last week, the world has watched with horror as the dreadful tragedy of the earthquake and Tusnami was followed by escalating problems at the Fukuyama nuclear plant. Various efforts to restrict the consequences of radiation leakage have been tried. In general, however, the crisis management seems to have proceeded in an over-linear way. By that, I mean that standard or pre-planned responses were initiated. Once there was evidence that Plan A was failing, a Plan B idea was attempted.

So, for example, once it became clear that cooling water was needed, a Plan B was suggested to dump water from a helicopter. Once this Plan B was found to expose the pilots to unacceptable risks of radiation, a Plan C was tried, as water cannon were mobilized.

A different way

My concern, based on involvement in numerous creativity sessions attempting to support industrial crisis situations, is that there is a need for large numbers of possible ideas, some of which appear hopelessly unrealistic at first. Furthermore, efforts need to be directed towards multiple ‘mini-scenarios’ which involve as many teams as can be engaged with the creative effort. It can be argued that this is a form of work requiring creative leadership. If carried out with pre-training, the teams can be expected to come up with more, and better possibilities.

It can’t be done

One aspect of such creative work. The most promising ideas are almost always emergent. They are far from obvious at the start of the meetings. When suggested to others in the early stages of idea development they are likely to be greeted with ‘expert’ evidence that they are not feasible.

What might work better

What might work better is a response through social media. The ideas can be generated in large numbers and from multiple perspectives very rapidly. The sheer scale of ideas needs to be managed (the so-called variety-reduction process). I estimate there are thousands of teams who have worked in creativity mode on industrial crisis problems all over the world. But the capacity for self-organisation of such an effort is immense.

Let’s get started

Let’s get started. Hold on to a few basic principles for creative effectiveness. Collaborate with others by improving the unusual ideas, particularly if you can see concealed strengths, perhaps through technical know-how. Look for ideas close to a specific action requiring a short time-period for implementation.
And remember, impossibility is often a matter of perspective not logic.

My first idea is to get this message to students and colleagues who collectively have something to contribute. Creativity can also ‘go critical’. My next idea is to work with colleagues on the matter this morning and identify bloggers who might also be interested.

Not just in my backyard

This blog site is too insignificant of itself to be more than a catalyst. Please spread its proposal as far as you can.

The author

The author has worked in nuclear science (radiation chemistry) as well as in various projects internationally which have generated industrial innovations through applying creative problem-solving techniques

Red Cross and other useful links

The red cross appeal is one charity appealing for funds to support the wider humanitarian crisis in Japan. This Google site is a further great source of information. See also comments to this post, and also for discussion on Risk management

United Nations sanctions Gadaffi regime

February 27, 2011

Tudor Rickards

The United Nations security council votes unanimously to introduce sanctions against Colonel Gadaffi in the interests of protecting the rights of its citizens. The move seeks to avoid the controversies over the interpretation of legitimacy of military actions in the Iraq conflict

The Washington Post reported [Sat 26th Feb 2011]

The move came as President Obama for the first time called on Gaddafi to step down, deepening the Libyan leader’s international isolation as he struggles to contain a revolt that threatens his 41-year rule. It also marked the first U.S. vote in support of a Security Council referral to the International Criminal Court, which the United States has not joined.

The article also conveyed a White House announcement of the contents of a telephone conversation by President Obama to Germany’s Angela Merkel in which the Presedent was quoted as saying

“when a leader’s only means of staying in power is to use mass violence against his own people, he has lost the legitimacy to rule and needs to do what is right for his country by leaving now”

The international support for the UN resolution

The United Nations is often forced into actions which demonstrate the near-impossibility of a genuinely united position regarding means as well as ends. In this case there seems more of a consensus than is often the case.

The resolution is further strengthened by the defection of Libya’s delegation to the United Nations. The article goes on to quote Libyan envoy Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgam who wrote to the Security Council president noting that his delegation “supports the measures proposed in the draft resolution to hold to account those responsible for the armed attacks against the Libyan civilians, including [through] the International Criminal Court”

More violence in Tripoli

In a separate bulletin, [Saturday 26th Feb 2011] The Post reported further accounts of State-supported violence against protesters in the Lybian capital Tripoli

Unedited news story

The above is a summary of a fast breaking global issue

Coalition crisis in India?

February 17, 2011

India has a coalition government brought about as a reaction to political crisis. The partnership of Sonya Ghandi and Manmohan Singh now faces a political crisis of its own. In this respect there are parallels with the problems of the UK’s coalition government

India and the United Kingdom both have coalition governments facing tough political situations. But the crises they are grappling with also have various differences, making comparisons difficult. A BBC report [abbreviated below] suggests

An unshakeable understanding between Mr Singh and Congress [party] President Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ensured political stability in the country. Frequent meetings between the two suggested a neat division of responsibility between party and government.

In the past few months, [in early 2011] the personal equation may have continued, but things have begun going horribly wrong for the Congress-led coalition. Inflation, corruption scandals, a massive and ongoing agitation for a separate state of Telangana in southern India, apparent favours in the allocation of land, the abuse of discretionary powers by state leaders: everything seemed to go wrong at the same time for Mr Singh and his government.

Long considered a man of unimpeachable integrity, Mr Singh coasted to a second term as the prime minister of the world’s second most populous nation [in May 2009]. With the opposition in disarray, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government appeared to be on a roll.

The Phone-licences scandal

The corruption scandal erupted anew in February 2011. Anil Ambani, chairman of the Reliance Communications, has been questioned as part of a probe into a phone-license selling scandal:

An ongoing investigation is looking into whether mobile phone licences were sold at below-market prices in 2008. Claims that the government lost more than $30bn (£18.6bn) in revenue have caused months of political conflict and shaken investor confidence. Reliance Communications shares have declined 30% in value this year, making them among the worst performers on the Bombay Stock Exchange’s main Sensitive Index. As well as hurting the stock market, the scandal has caused political turmoil in India.

Earlier this month, federal officials arrested former telecommunications minister Andimuthu Raja. They alleged that Mr Raja violated guidelines in the second-generation (2G) phone license sale, and conspired to favour certain telecom companies. India’s chief auditor said in November that the 2G licences were sold for about a tenth of their value. The government has questioned the figure, claiming it is too low.

Above suspicion

Mr Singh seeks to defend his own impressively high reputation as an ethical leader. He claims that the coalition must remain “above suspicion” (the quote referring to Shakespeare’s play and the necessary status of the wife of Julius Caesar). Extreme ethical leadership presents its own dilemmas. Symbolically it places unreasonable demands on most leaders to be seen as beyond reproach, the idealism of a Caesar’s wife. This is a lot to expect of frail human beings in general, and perhaps of politicians in particular. Mr Singh may retain his personal reputation, but the rough-house of politics may make the claims harder to maintain for the coalition in its entirety.

Back in England

Which brings us nicely back to Mr Cameron, Nick Clegg, and their coalition government of conservatives and liberal democrats in the UK. Currently, [Feb 2011] Mr Cameron, while not aspiring to the ethical status of a Caesar’s wife, risks political trouble from his commitment to the Big Society concept. The coalition now risks further unwanted evidence of tensions as Clegg and Cameron lead opposing factions arguing for (Clegg) and against (Cameron) in a referendum for an electoral reform to a transferable vote system.

Mubarak watch

February 5, 2011

The events of political turmoil in Egypt in the first two weeks of February 2011 are followed and evaluated for lessons of leadership and the management of change

Saturday February 11th Mubarak is gone. For Egypt there will now be a lengthy period in which the speed of change slows. Mubarak watch concludes. For status reports see
The Los Angeles Times
The Guardian/Observer

Friday February 10th

Friday mid-afternoon. Mubarak’s resignation announced. Much more to follow.

Mr Suleiman said Mr Mubarak had handed power to the high command of the armed forces.
“In the name of God the merciful, the compassionate, citizens, during these very difficult circumstances Egypt is going through, President Hosni Mubarak has decided to step down from the office of president of the republic and has charged the high council of the armed forces to administer the affairs of the country,” he said.

Thursday evening, the world’s media turned to Tahrir Square. News was the Mubarak would speak to the nation to announce his resignation. Crowds expecting victory. Then dismay as Mubarak offers little. Confusion. Anger. “God help Israel now ” one commentator remarked. Fears for the next 24 hours.

Thursday February 9th

Intelligent discussion on BBC’s Newsnight. Historians plus activist spokesperson from Cairo. Lessons from history: revolutions result in emergence of ‘the strong leader’. Overnight, news of further initiatives, strikes in various parts of Egypt said to be ‘spontaneous’. Newsnight tested proposition that the protest could not bring down the Mubarak regime. Not easy to reduce to a logical proposition. Practically, Mubarak authority has been seriously and irrevocably damaged. He has lost unconditional support of his powerful ally the United States.

Wednesday February 8th Overnight view is broadly that there had been renewed efforts (if only in numbers) by the protestors in Cairo yesterday. Worth checking on the country-wide situation. A wikileaks view assembled by The New York Times mostly confirms what has been written about Mubarak’s negotiaons for US aid in return for his claimed ‘stong’ policies maintaining peace in the region. He viewed the removal of Saddam as a huge mistake which he believed made his own continued rule even more critical.
Tuesday February 8th In search of a leader? Aljazeera reports freeing of Google executive Wael Ghonim, whose facebook page has been considered to have triggered off the protests in Cairo.

Monday February 7th Overnight news indicates that the situation in Cairo has reached an impasse. The New York Times suggests it presents a dilemma for the Obama regime. Stock exchange opening has been postponed for 24 hours, as the government attempts to sell $2.5bn in short-term debt.

Sunday February 6th Muslim brotherhood in talks. Aljazeera suggests these to be ‘critical’ to next stage of events in Egypt. US sends mixed messages regarding the need for Mubarak to oversee a smooth transition of power. Brief opening of banks reminds us of the financial crisis running with the political one.

Saturday Feb 5th Yesterday’s ‘day of departure’ is now evaluated as no clear tipping point. Around 100,000 rather than a million people were reported around Tahrir Square. The possiblity of a longer struggle is now firming up.

One of the leaders of the protesters, George Ishaq of the Kifaya (Enough) movement, told the BBC they intend reduce their presence in Tahrir Square, holding big demonstrations on Tuesdays and Fridays.
“Protesters will remain in Tahrir Square on all days of the week,” he said on Friday [4th Feb, 2011]. “But each Friday, there will be a demonstration like today.”

Friday Feb 4th This was the day announced in advance as the day when a million protesters would symbolically end the Mubarak regime. But the tone of reporting of a few days earlier has been somewhat muted. There is greater concern that there is more of a temporary condition of stalemate.

Another voice was raised in support of Mubarak, President Berlusconi of Italy, himself facing a struggle to survive politically. Like Tony Blair he considers the merits that stability of regime has brought to the wider Middle East.

Feb 3rd Situation is confused. Voice of America suggests that the Pro-Mubarak forces are gaining ground. The BBC however reports gains by the opposition demonstrators. What is clear that there have been fatalities acknowledged. Prime Minster Ahmed Shafiq broadcast an apology for the fighting, which has killed nine and wounded hundreds and promised an investigation. Tomorrow is the scheduled ‘day of a million protestors’.

Feb 2nd Reports a few days ago were talking of repid removal of the President from power. Now the tone is of more organized efforts to resist the revolutionary forces concentrated in Cairo. Jeremy Bowen of the BBC described events

Since I arrived a week ago I have seen no significant demonstrations for President Mubarak. But from the morning there were thousands of his supporters on Cairo’s streets, mobilised presumably by the ruling party, the NDP. The pro-Mubarak demonstrations were well organised, not spontaneous. Numbered buses unloaded supporters. Many placards looked as if they had been made by professional sign writers. Their opponents claim that they are paid to demonstrate. For an authoritarian leader like Hosni Mubarak, the sight of so many people in Tahrir Square calling for his removal must have been deeply humiliating. He will have wanted to reassert his authority over his capital city – and his supporters were given the job.

Snow blindness and collective hysteria hits the U.K.

December 21, 2010

Unusually severe winter weather in the U.K. has triggered severe cases of denial and irrational behaviours. To the fore are individuals denying that the weather conditions may require a change of their travel plans

It was a football fan stranded on the M6 motorway who first caught my attention. He had called the BBC. He said he had been stuck for several hours into his journey from Liverpool. He had set off intended to drive to London to the Emirates Stadium. For at least 24 hours, there had been increasingly dire weather warnings transmitted on the station he had called. Don’t travel, they said, unless your journey is absolutely necessary. Hadn’t he heard the weather forecasts? The interviewer did not follow that line of questioning, preferring the number one in the bluffers’ guide to getting a story out of members of the public. How does it feel to be stuck in the snow and learning the football match you are heading for has been postponed?

He felt gutted. Betrayed somehow

Over the next few days the story was repeated in various forms. Some travellers were snow stuck en route to Heathrow and their winter holiday in the sun. The callers were finding all sorts of culprits to blame for their plight. Why hadn’t there been more efforts to clear the motorways? The Scottish transport minister fell on his sword for failing to do better for travellers in the North. In England, transport minister Phillip Hammond tells the House why he should not also resign.

Those travellers who had reached Heathrow found fresh targets for their anger. In packed waiting-areas, delayed passengers told sympathetic reporters how gutted and betrayed they felt. How no-one was giving them any information. How staff seemed to be hiding rather than helping. British Airways. Another cock-up. BAA inept. Boris Johnson with the full authority of his role as mayor of London rang up Heathrow to find out if they were doing all they possibly could. It seems they told him they were. D’yer meantasay roared Stephen Nolan on BBC Five live, that a family can’t travel in England to see their loved ones, their grandchildren, in December? Well, yes, Stephen, that’s precisely what those messages meant which your travel correspondents had been sending out. But full marks for capturing the mood of those stuck at Heathrow or on England’s white and impassable M ways.

Meanwhile in Helsinki …

Ah, yes, the ‘this doesn’t happen in Helsinki‘ story. Why are we so bad at dealing with snow in the U.K.? One of the national jokes is that the first snow of winter catches the rail network by surprise because it is ‘the wrong kind of snow‘. Which is a version of the wrong kind of leaves story. Anyway, Helsinki airport which is publically-owned does stay open in severe weather conditions. Challenge for discussion with the family which will pass the time if you are stranded in the car. Who can think of the best explanation of why Heathrow might be different from Helsinki?

Snow blindness and blind faith

The common factor around the wails of rage was that mood of frustration. And a blindness to signals that their plans may have had to to be changed. For those of a deep faith (like the football supporter) the snow-blindness was all the stronger. And, it goes without saying that someone, somewhere, outside this car was to blame for all this…

Footnote on footware

In Bramhall yesterday morning it was -10 degrees. A wailing ambulance had reached the centre of the village, where someone had slipped at the side of the road. An old lady was gingerly edging her way towards Tesco Express, her walking-frame wobbling ahead for her. We had exchanged words with someone who was wearing his severe-weather turtles. These are chains to wrap around your shoes to prevent you from slipping…

Liverpool up for sale – but who owns the club?

October 12, 2010

Liverpool football club is up for sale. But the dramatic story has an unusual twist to it. Who actually owns the club?

The developing story moves today [September 12th 2010] to the High Court for a partial answer. The putative owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, [H&G as we will designate them in this post] are in dispute with their own legally instituted board.

American sports entrepreneurs H& G bought the club in March 2007, in a deal which results in debts to the Royal Bank of Scotland of £240m. H&G are blocking the proposed sale of the club to New England Sports Ventures (NESV) for some £300m. A Board of Directors has responsibility to its shareholders, which usually means in practice that the will of the shareholding owners prevails. Which makes this a very interesting business case.

So what’s the problem?

Well, the usual principles become more complicated if the club is massively in debt. Liverpool is massively in debt to its bankers. Repayments of its loan are due this week. The club will have trouble repaying the loan. So it does not take too great a leap of imagination to suggest that in one sense the bank ‘owns’ the club. Not ‘owns’ legally, but at very least owns the right to exert influence. With or without any major shareholding.

The bank’s influence

The influence of the bank was shown in the terms of its financial dealing last year when it demanded (and got) the appointment of a ‘neutral’ chairman and a board structure which removed absolute power from the owners The need for such financing illustrated the weakness of the H&G position (comparable in principle the arrangements surrounding the Glazer takeover of Liverpool’s deadly rivals in debt, Manchester United.

Opportunities for a sale

The circumstances were ripe for a takeover. But the ripeness also permitted opportunities for further entrepreneurial actions, timed to take advantage of the uncertainties. The board indicated willingness to accept one of the offers, by New England Sports Ventures (NESV). The owners attempted a few weeks ago [September 2010) to sack the members of its ‘own’ board. consisting of the ‘neutral’ clairman Broughton, managing director Christian Purslow and commercial director Ian Ayre who had gone against the wishes of their American owners.

Confusion reigns

On the brink of the court hearing, and the deadline for repaying the bank loan, confusion reigns. The possibility the FA deducting points from Liverpool’s league tally has appeared to be a possible deal-breaker for NESV. There is even a second would-be buyer, Peter Lim, claiming he had been unfairly discounted by the board.

What has become clear is that the question “…but who actually owns Liverpool Football Club?” is not a straightforward one to answer. Also clear is that the Football Association’s ‘Fit and Proper Person’ criterion for club ownership will have another urgent test of its credibility in the months ahead.

A more interesting question for students of leadership: what advice would you offer the Football Association through lessons learned from the case of the board which rebelled against the owners of the organization?

And stop press

Sporting Intelligence reports high court ruling in favour of RBS and Liverpool

When leadership matters. The case of the Chilean miners

August 27, 2010

Sometimes leadership matters in an obvious life or death way.  The Chilean miners are a case in point. Anyone brought up in a mining community will know why

Tudor Rickards

The stark facts of a human crisis have been told around the world.  One journalist confronted the possibility that his own profession might look for the greatest possible human interest angle in the story, as in the classic Billy Wilder movie.

The story hardly needs embellishing. A mining accident occurs half a mile underground.  At first, the local community fears the worse while hoping for the best. Families of miners have memories of the outcomes of earlier disasters.  In South Wales when I was growing up, the mine’s alarm bell was as significant as the tolling of a church bell or a trumpet-call in other communities. Our poets and writers helped create and recreate our images of fear and heroism.  When you start from that understanding you also begin to understand how miners can survive psychologically  after days or weeks on entombment. You can also understand a little why miners have such a strong social bond, and a bloody-minded determination to keep fighting to the bitter end in an industrial dispute.

All in a day’s work

A ‘normal’ day’s work occurs under conditions hard to imagine with experiencing some analogous claustrophobia-inducing conditions.  But that normality has already helped a group of 33 men come to terms with what has happened.  Stark realism and conditioned responses come together, and maybe keep in denial being overwhelmed with dread.  Maybe, just maybe, a group of experienced potholers would be the closest approximation of skills and attitudes of survival value.   Another might be sub-mariners.  A Radio 5 news item intelligently seized on that possibility. Yes, there are similarities, their interviewee said, but at least we had volunteered to be together in a confined space for weeks on end.  But so have miners, if we set aside the level of free choice in a mining community to be either a front-line miner of part of the support staff.

Situation report

The rescue plan is fraught with difficulties, but a clear overview was provided by the BBC:

The plan to rescue the 33 men trapped 700m (2,300ft) underground in the San Jose copper mine in Chile is a complex undertaking that could take engineers until the end of the year to achieve.

In a similar operation in 2002, American rescuers spent two days drilling a hole just wide enough to fit a man to rescue nine miners trapped underground. The Americans had to drill down just 74m. By comparison, the plan to rescue the 33 men in Chile nearly three quarters of a kilometre underground is a much greater challenge. But, says John Urosek, who took part in the 2002 Quecreek mine rescue in Pennsylvania, it is not “mission impossible.”

“I would put this at the tough end of things. It’s not mission impossible but it’s a difficult mission,” says Mr Urosek who is now chief of mine emergency operations for the US Mine Safety and Health Administration. The key to the operation is the use of a specialist drilling machine, designed to bore deep narrow holes through any rock to a depth of just over a kilometre.

There are numerous uncertainties and requirements for precision-engineering. The technical side has echoes of the on-going BP attempts to ‘drill and fill’ the well in the Gulf of Mexico. Leadership above and below ground will be vital.  Above ground all the skills of project management will need to be deployed.  There are additional ‘interface skills’ already evidenced in the supplies provisioned through the tiny bore-hole, and communication systems being set up.  Underground, the leadership influences will be revealed over time.  It is likely to have a strongly emergent and distributed aspect to it.

What to do when your TV breaks down during the World Cup

June 26, 2010

When your TV breaks down during the World Cup you lose all sense of economic caution

Or maybe you are different, and carry out a risk analysis. You figure out it doesn’t matter. You will be able to watch the matches with a room-full of fans at a nearby pub. Or, you select the most accommodative relative or neighbour or friend or any combination of the three you can think of, and start checking dates. Or, you do what I did.

You switch the set off and take the plug out of the wall and put it back again and switch on. The screen remains blank.

It was all right last night

Who turned it off last night? Whoever. It was all right last night. Now it’s an ex-Tele, dead, departed, not even a flicker of red from the standby light. You start a list of friends who ‘know about fixing the Tele’.

It is Friday lunchtime. England has limped (almost metaphorically) through the qualifying stages of the World Cup. For that other breed of masochist, followers of British tennis, Murray is doing a similar last-hope-for-the-country thing at Wimbledon. They even brought the Queen in after thirty years absence from the Royal Box to make sure Murray won through the second round. There aren’t going to be pubs showing all the Wimbledon matches. So it’s a double whammy.

What to do?

Of course. Call Susan. Did you turn the television off last night? It’s not working. Go down the village, Susan says. Now. There’s a TV place. Yes. That’s it. I go in some haste to the village. There is a line of anxious-looking customers outside the shop, and a cortege of illegally parked cars with red and white flags on. [No, that was just me fantasizing]. As I feared, all TV repair engineers were out fixing broken-down TVs. Booked out until the day of the final.

Buy another one

Have to buy another one. But can someone come immediately? No. By Monday? Well, maybe. If I buy one now, can you guarantee to get in down the road today. No.

Some more discrete haggling, me assuming that the engineers will become available if the price is right. Maybe today, but the boss himself will do me a favour (that’s what it’s called) and install a new set over the weekend.

But we are playing Germany on Sunday I say calmly. [ OK, not calmly. I shout wildly: BUT WE ARE PLAYING GERMANY ON SUNDAY!! ‘We have the match of the tournament on Sunday and you are going to get a bloody good price for a fancy set because you won’t have cheap sets in store will you?’ my defeated body language whispered.]

This is no joke

This is not an invented story. What will be, will be… [To be continued].