Article published: Friday, June 24th 2011
In the run up to mass walkouts on 30 June, the latest issue of The Sausage Factory from Leeds focuses on strike action in the universities.
Staff at pre-1992 universities will not officially be out on strike this coming Thursday, as they are on a different pension scheme than the former polytechnics. The University and College Union (UCU) are currently balloting for industrial action in the autumn over the USS scheme – under which pre-1992 institutions operate – which also faces attack.
Some members of UCU at least have told MULE they are quite annoyed not to be out with their colleagues on June 30. Staff at the University of Leeds are being asked to strike unofficially – to call in sick, take a day’s leave and encourage others to do the same – and join their fellow members on the picket lines. To those who say “But it’s not our strike…” The writers of The Sausage Factory argue:
1) It is colleagues in your/our union, the UCU, who are on strike at Leeds Met. Attacks on them are attacks on us all. Institutional boundaries should not be used to divide us.
2) Although the strike has been called officially over pensions, it should be taken up as a generalised fight-back against government cuts and the assault that is underway against social housing, healthcare, social care, childcare, museums, swimming pools, public toilets, rape crisis centres, domestic violence shelters and all areas of social life. The strike is just one part of resistance against the sustained degradation of collective life that we are seeing unfold.
Though the article is aimed primarily at those at the University of Leeds, we clearly have a similar situation in Manchester. While teaching staff at MMU will be out on the picket lines this coming Thursday, those at the University of Manchester won’t, but should maybe take note.
They also have something to say on the role and effectiveness of strikes more generally:
A strike is not a protest. In a protest, you make your voice heard and speak ‘truth to power’, as if truth were some magic word. But voices can be silenced and a protest can be ignored. Worse still, by confronting power, in asking for something to be different, the powerful are legitimised. After all, dissent was permitted, in its bounded moment. Democracy was done.
A strike is more than a register of discontent. It goes beyond mere expression of opinion. It is a refusal. A refusal to comply, to be pushed around, to submit to authority. A refusal to perform our daily dance. And a strike is much more than a refusal.
A strike is more than a refusal because it is a recognition of our power. We recognize our power because without the university’s workers – staff and students alike – there is no university. But it is still more than that, because we do not only want to refuse, to say no, but to build something new.
There is a contemporary adage that ‘strikes don’t work’. It’s true that the tightening of union laws and have limited unions’ abilities to act. It’s true that there has been a powerful campaign to signify unions as outmoded, anti-modern and antiprogress. Yet the withdrawal of labour remains one of the most effective ways to challenge employers and the government, particularly in the current context of attacks on social justice, distribution of wealth and the erosion of shared public goods.
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