Today those of us who are UCU members are on strike. We are striking because our pay has got progressively worse over the last four years. Times are tough and our employers have taken the opportunity to use this to hold down pay despite the fact that they are sitting on considerable reserves. Sally Hunt makes the case for the stike on the UCU website.
Clearly the decision by higher education employers to hold down pay has to be seen within a wider policy of cutting public sector jobs and pay. The current government believe that it is economically right that during a recession the costs of the public sector need to go down. I don’t buy this, I think that it has a responsibility for further deflating the economy and leading us into a spiral of increasing inequality. So I’m on strike because I want better pay, but also because I want to send a political signal about the direction in which the government is taking us. Of course I want higher education workers to be better paid, but I’m not interested in arguing that we should be a special case. I want to see consistent investment across the public sector in jobs and pay, today’s action is one way to put some pressure on for this to happen.
I’ve written about being on strike before in 2011 and again in 2011. I talked about the challenges of having to pick sides and then in 2012 I talked about the importance of standing together and hoping for the best for the future. I stand by all of this and I believe that all of these actions have served a purpose. We haven’t got everything that we’ve asked for, but the actions have clearly signalled, along with lots of other actions by other workers in the public and private sectors, that people are willing to take action and that democracy is not just putting a cross in a box and then doing what ever the government that emerges tell you to do. Democracy is active, it is lived every day in a thousand acts that you make. We stand up for what we believe in and what kind of world we want in numberous ways, though the things we buy, the causes we support, the clubs we join and the discussions that we have. Going on strike is one of these, but it is a critical and uniquely important one because it comes about as a collective decision taken by a group of people organised through one of the most powerful democratic institutions that we have built (the trade union). Our individual decisions assert our integrity and communicate our beliefs, but our collective decisions have the potential to actually change things.
I always liked this picture.
While we are divided we achieve no change and things get worse for us. When we come together we can turn the tables and exert some control.
There are lots of assumptions about how our politics change as we get older. We are supposed to give up on our ideals and accept “reality”. We are also told constantly that society is changing and that things like trade unions, decent pensions and good quality, freely available public services are no longer an option. Recently this argument has been bound up with the “there is no money left” rhetoric that has been serving instead of policy for this government. Personally I don’t buy any of this. I believe now roughly what I believed when I first got involved in politics at the age of 16. I believe that there is a lot of wealth and that it is currently distributed in a way that is inequitable and fails to represent and reward those who do the work in society. I believe in collective ownership (not necessarily state ownership) of key stratic elements of the economy, I believe in progressive taxation, I believe that there should be a universal entitlement to a full range of public services regardless of how rich or poor you are and I believe in extending democracy so that we all have more control over the services that we use and the workplaces and communities that we live and work in.
Such beliefs are well outside of anything that any current political party is offering. But, such ideas, based on hope for humanity and optimism about the future, at least can get an airing on those days, like today, when we all stand together.