What's in a strike?
On Thursday 30 June (J30), lecturers in Leeds will go on strike to defend against attacks on their pensions. They will be joined by 750,000 other teachers, school students and public sector workers across the country.
Strike. Photo by Paul Mison under a CC licence.
The strike is one arm of resistance. Although the official premise is pensions, J30 is also part of a wider fight-back against government cuts and the unfolding assault against universities, social housing, healthcare, museums, swimming pools, public toilets, domestic violence shelters and all areas of social life.
A strike is more than a register of discontent though. It goes beyond an expression of opinion. It is a refusal, a refusal to be pushed around, to submit to authority, what sociologist philosopher John Hollway calls a ‘scream of refusal’.
A strike is also a recognition of our collective power. Without the workers – staff and students alike – there would be no university. But it is also about building something new.
There is a contemporary adage that ‘strikes don’t work’. It’s true that tighter union laws have limited unions’ abilities to act and a powerful campaign has worked to portray them as outmoded, anti-modern and anti-progress.
But not turning up to work is still one of the best ways to challenge employers and the government.
People’s jobs have changed significantly since strikes first emerged. In the university, for example, people are often working on tasks from which it feels impossible to ‘clock-off’. So there are interesting questions about what form contemporary strikes should take. While there are no easy answers, it’s clear that we should be working together to come up with ever more effective ways of resisting.
Strikes come with dangers and limitations too. By their nature they suggest that a ‘fair’ relationship between workers and capital is possible. We think it’s important to escalate and widen the strike from resistance to specific ills, towards a tool for social change. J30 may not bring much in the way of lasting transformation, but we hope it will be one small step on a journey towards a much needed refusal and the co-creation of alternatives.
Many of us in the Really Open University have taken part in J30 strike assemblies here in Leeds, as have many others across the country. On Thursday we will be downing tools and picketing alongside our colleagues at Leeds Metropolitan University, we will then walk alongside school students who have organised a feeder march into town where we will join with Trade Unionists, striking workers, the unemployed, and the precarious among others.