Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Why I am striking

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As you may know, today university lecturers are on strike - I am not one of them, but I have stayed away from my workplace. I am not even in their union, but I have stayed away from my workplace.

In my office ysterday there was heartening concern over what to do about crossing picket lines - I decided I could not do so. Mercifully, my employer operates a policy of counting any member of staff - whether union or no - who refuses to cross the picket line as on strike. In effect, we have what teh french have, an individual right to strike.

Union membership is - formally - low in France, yet because of such rights they can pull of some terrific strikes when the need takes. I consider it important to express my solidarity with colleagues, and to illustrate that the divisions between unions is not a division between workers.

Essentially, that makes striking a matter of personal conscience - an individual decision - and so it means that the success or failure of any strike depends entirely on the consciousness and detmination of the workers themselves. No Potemkin unions, no bureaucracies to blame for selling out.

I'm not calling for such a right, merely observing that the necessary thing begins with the individual decision to join the struggle. There may be power in a union, but the fuel is workers hearts and minds.

11 Comments:

Blogger Phil said...

I'm an AUT member (although not a lecturer) and thus on strike. (And yes, I'm quite happy with that "and thus" - I've always felt that smash-the-unions council-communist types were, at best, rather ahead of the game...)

Mercifully, my employer operates a policy of counting any member of staff - whether union or no - who refuses to cross the picket line as on strike.

Somebody actually complained about a university's management operating this policy on the AUT mailing list - well basically this is just another example of management intimidation... I couldn't see this at all. You don't want to cross a picket line? Good! Welcome to the strike!

the necessary thing begins with the individual decision to join the struggle. There may be power in a union, but the fuel is workers hearts and minds.

Got to have both, I think. Even fairly wooden, reflexive adherence to a strike call can help build consciousness for future struggles - but only if lots of other people are out too. (I'm trying to avoid using the word 'dialectical' here...)

10:36 AM  
Blogger DespairToWhere said...

My partner is also in the AUT and on strike today. I think we should be careful about lauding any individualisation of the decision-making process. In the situation as it stands, we have people thinking that it's basically an individual decision whether or not to join the strike or cross a picket line. Everyone, of course, whatever individual decision they made, happily picks up the increased pay cheque at the end of it all. We can't applaud a situation where everyone cashes in on the benefits while a smaller group carries the risks and the costs.

On the plus side, I am assured that the AUT in Coventry has "a series of seminars planned which will bring the country to its knees."

11:16 AM  
Blogger DespairToWhere said...

PS Coventry AUT is furious with me for leaking its revolutionary strategy, but very impressed with you for striking even though you're not in the union.

2:33 PM  
Blogger Bill said...

Do we want unwilling strikers? I think that's counter productive in two ways:

a) They resent being made to strike.
b) It makes us look weaker and gives a gift to the otehr side.

One of my co-workers was concerned there'd be no nastiness about her decision to come in - I forgot to assure her that the college anti-bully policy should protect her.

Anyway, we've also got a looming victimisation case of a union officer coming back off doing pay evaluation seconment to find her job has been abolished behind their back.

2:33 PM  
Blogger Bill said...

PS - I'm a bit guilty in this because the pay evaluation has moved me to effectively a lecturer grade, but I'll probablky stay in Unison, so I'm basically demonstrating my unwillingness to free ride a strike.

Never be brought up Catholic :)

2:35 PM  
Blogger DespairToWhere said...

Well, no situation is ideal. I expect the strikers feel weak and resentful as people trundle into work. Even more so when they cash in on the benefits. I know I would.

Anyway, shouldn't you be working? Oh, no, I should...

4:44 PM  
Blogger Darren said...

Wait up, Bill, you're in the SPGB. Shouldn't you be crossing the picket line, whilst chanting:"Abolish the wages system"?

Just that I've heard that it what SPGBers do when confronted by strike action. ;-)

PS - no word of lie - sort of - but the word verification to enable me to post this comment is PSIWW ;-)

6:45 PM  
Blogger DespairToWhere said...

You're right Darren, it must be awful to have your views caricatured. The SPGB doesn't go in for that sort of thing at all, does it? ;-)

11:25 AM  
Blogger Darren said...

Hey Stuart,

being told that SPGBers actively strike break goes beyond caricature. Don't you agree?

I'll leave it there, 'cos I'm just up and I'd not had my caffeine. I'm still feeling grumpy. ;-)

1:10 PM  
Blogger Darren said...

PS - It is not 1.10pm in New York. That comment clock is lying.

1:11 PM  
Blogger DespairToWhere said...

Perhaps you're right. If you'd heard me rigorously defending the SPGB to other marxists, which I've done a couple of times in recent weeks, you wouldn't be grumpy with me!
All the best
Stuart

11:44 AM  

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