We’re used to things being subtle and inbetween. When I write academic stuff I’m usually at pains to point out that there is more than one possible explanation and that there are probably a range of different factors that explain what is happening. So I don’t generally claim that careers work causes people to have good careers, I generally talk about how it might contribute, but recognise that there are other factors and so on. In other words I’m happy with recognising complexity and trying to negotiate it as best as possible.
However, this willingness to understand and work with complexity shouldn’t be understood as having no moral or political compass. If there aren’t absolutely categories of right and wrong it still seems to me that there are things that are righter and wronger. Generally we all slip around between these, but hopefully we all try and move towards the righter things as much as possible. For me being righter is about thinking about others, about doing what is best for our long term interests, about social justice, environmental sustainability and so on. I can’t hope to be perfect, but I can hope to try and make things better. Within the constraints of my life I try and pursue this aim through work, play, family life and citizenship. I often fail, but I at least understand when I’m failing.
Today is a day when the difference between right and wrong is drawn pretty starkly. The whole public sector is (at least potentially) out on strike. We are striking because the government is trying to take our wages away from us in the form of our pensions. I don’t fancy spending my old age in poverty, especially when the existence of a good pension has been a contributing factor to me remaining in the public sector. However underneath this main concern there are also a series of shadow concerns that underpin the strike. We are also striking because the government is attacking the public sector, and through it the idea of public service, more generally. We are also striking because we see the economy being mismanaged and fear that we are about to plunge into deeper recessions. And we are also striking because the government seems intent on leaving the poor and particularly the young poor out of the mainstream of society and storing up the likelihood of future social unrest.
I wasn’t particularly concerned when the government got elected. I didn’t feel that the Conservative Party offered anything significantly different from Labour. I probably felt that the Liberals were slightly more to my taste than the other two – but I didn’t actually vote for any of them and voted instead for the Green Party. I still feel that the mainstream parties are very similar and I honestly find it difficult to believe that Labour would have handled the current situation very differently from the current government. Having said that I think that there would have been some differences e.g. I don’t think that they would have got rid of Connexions in the same way.
So my feelings are not party political, rather they are a reaction to a political orthodoxy that leaves government with very little room for maneuver and very little reason to exist other than to serve the interests of those at the top of the social pile. However, it is worth reviewing what they have done to me personally to help to explain why I am on strike. Since they were elected the government have overseen the continuation of the recession, they have reworked the business model of the higher education sector in which I work without any real confidence about the implications of this reworking, they have closed down the careers sector that I work with and research, and they have presided over a period of rioting which impacted on the city in which I live. Furthermore they have told me that my pension has got to be slashed and my wages controlled. I think that I’ve got the right to be disappointed.
So here we are on strike. I don’t like it, it is stressful and exposing, but I take the action because it is the right thing to do. It is the best way to send a message that ordinary people across the country are hurting and that we aren’t willing to just keep taking it. It is about personal interest, but it is also about the best interests of the sector I work in and the public sector as a whole. Ultimately it is about what I believe is best for the country.
So if you aren’t taking strike action today I’d ask you to think about why. If it is because you believe that unions are the enemy within and that you don’t believe that any civil organisation should challenge the government then I understand your position even if I don’t agree with it. If it is because you think the government is doing a good job then I don’t really understand your position, but I get why you aren’t on strike. But, if it is because you are “too busy” or “can’t be bothered” or are “too scared” or worst of all because you believe that it doesn’t apply to you or you are “too important” then shame on you. This is a difficult time and it only works if people stand up and play a role in the civic conversation. Today’s strike is evidence of pluralist democracy in action and in a difficult economic time like this we desperately need people to be willing to take on a civic role and contribute to the making of a better, or at least not worse, society. I think that today’s strike makes a positive contribution to this conversation and I applaud all of the people who have taken this action.
I can’t promise you that I have right on my side but I am sure that at this point, when the line has been drawn, that I’m on the right side of it. Are you?