Friday, 13 April 2018

Making a difference

I promised I would come back with further thoughts - and questions - about the strike.

Well, they are still a work in progress, but here's where I am so far.

Firstly, in response to the thoughtful comments that were left by people who felt that I should have supported the strike - if I may address you directly - you were all union men (I was going to say 'former union men' but I guess once a union man, always a union man.) It seemed to be a reflex reaction that I should have supported and participated in the strike - and it felt as if that was borne of an unthinking belief that all strike action should be supported, whatever the cause, and whatever the cost - so my first thought was to ask whether that was the case? Because if it is, and there's no quetion of considering any particular action on its merits, then that's the end of the argument there and then. It's a position I can understand, but I think you have to have grown up in that culture, or to have been forged in the fire of something like the 1984 Miners' Strike, to be able to hold such a position so unwaveringly, so unquestioningly - more like an article of faith than a political argument. I'm very wary of taking up a dogmatic position on any political issue, as I've not only seen the harm that can do in others' hands, but even in my own.

Since writing the original post, I've been able to find lots of explanations about the background to the strike, and lots of arguments - most in favour, but a few opposing.

Clearly one of the areas where I depart from the strikers is on the collateral damage, which was the focus of my original comments. There is always a trade off between the cost of action and the reward of success - not least for the strikers themselves. So my concerns about the damage to students were not absolute - the idea that no damage to students can ever be justified - but tacitly included the belief that the rewards would not be worth it.

And this is, I think, the fundamental root of my non-involvement: a profound scepticism about the possibility of it resulting in long term improvement. The unfettered, deified capitalist system will screw us all. Any victories won by industrial action in the past 100 years have been short lived, hollow and pyrrhic. And I hate to say that - and would love to hear of exceptions to the rule. I hate to say it, because through talking to strikers I have realised that for many of them - you - it is so, so important to be able to believe in the possibility of making a difference. Of course I understand that, and I feel it too. But the way I make a difference is to the lives of individual students. I simply don't believe that we can take on the system and win, no matter how great our collective solidarity. And maybe that fundamental difference in belief is what, in the end, it comes down to.

2 comments:

  1. I depends what you mean by winning. I went on strike over plans by the BBC to end our final salary scheme and replace it with a DC scheme. After the strike, they came up with plans for a career average scheme —which while not as good as final salary was a lot better than DC. It may not have been a complete win, but the end result was a lot better than would have been the case without the strike. It appears from the news today that a similar deal might be on the cards for universities too. If so, I wonder if you will benefit from the concessions won by the strike action of your colleagues?

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  2. Hi Adam, Yes of course, if anything is gained, I will benefit along with everyone else; I can't help that. Just as I - and we all - have benefited from numerous campaigns that we have not directly contributed to. But I think there is also an element - in this particular dispute, at least - that at least some of those same colleagues are not unhappy that the show has been kept on the road, although they couldn't possibly say so. If concessions can be won, and students not too badly hurt, then surely that's a good outcome for everyone.

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