If you didn’t get the chance to watch the urgent questions in the House of Commons yesterday (I am aware that watching the Parliament Channel for fun makes me odd) then you should, because the ‘debate’ there was entirely indicative of the petty moral one-upmanship and underhanded tactics being used by the Conservative government in the face of tomorrow’s strike by five of the UKs teaching unions.
I’m not going to pull my punches: I find Education Secretary Michael Gove to be an utterly miserable little man. The main force of his argument over the strikes appears to be that teachers are not just letting the public down by voting for industrial action, but that they are actually also letting themselves down, and bringing the profession itself into disrepute by daring to leave negotiations early. But it’s even worse than that, because he goes on to threaten that a strike would cause the public to begin to ‘demand’ stronger union regulation.
I run into this argument time and time again in ‘discussions’ about sexism and other forms of discrimination: Unless the victim is a perfect paragon of patience and understanding, never gets angry, and never loses their temper, then they are harming their cause by re-enforcing negative stereotypes. This sort of talk is useful to those who are trying to derail a debate, because it entirely removes a person’s agency to fight for themselves, and means that you don’t have to bother engaging with their argument at all. It doesn’t matter how right you are any more: Because you haven’t conformed to their idea of what a victim should look like, your point is void. It’s a particularly malicious and odious technique, and one that Michael Gove seemingly isn’t above using.
Between Wisconsin and Canada Post, we are increasingly seeing the erosion of the power and collective bargaining rights of unions across the Western world. What’s more, the UK is also starting to see some of the tactics employed by the Tea Party on the other side of the Atlantic, who manage to continually undermine anyone that speaks out against them by calling them a socialist or a liberal–both of which they have ensured are now dirty words.
In fact, in the case of tomorrow’s teachers’ strikes, so intense is Michael Gove’s offensive on public opinion, that he is actually proposing to use the general public themselves to break the strike.
Currently, United Kingdom Employment Law protects teachers and other unionised workers from having to inform their employers of their intention to strike. According to the Conservatives and their Liberal Democrat allies (most of whom I hope a busy hanging their heads in shame), this further compounds the injury to hard-working families who certainly don’t have the same luxurious pension scheme afforded to workers in the public sector. They would much rather see these teachers forced to declare their intention to strike, so that the government and the general public can properly prepare for it. Following this to its logical conclusion, this would give the government the opportunity to minimise the impact of a strike, and thus would destroy the unions’ ability to bargain for their members’ rights by depriving society of the one thing of value that they possess: their labour.
Of course, all of this is a result of the collapse of the world’s economy: a disaster which (in the West) front-line workers and the poorest communities are being asked to bear the brunt of. All the time while Members of Parliament, Bank CEOS and even celebrities continue to exercise their wealth and position to maintain privacy rights and personal fortunes that the country’s general public (not least the teachers who will be going out on strike tomorrow) are not afforded.
But then, of course the government is going to be more scared of public opinion than it is of any industrial action, because should there actually be any degree of public support for these strikes, then maybe they really have begun to lose control.
ETA: And now you should go and read the post on this issue written by the eminent Dylan Fox, over on his blog. It’s not only excellent, but takes a slightly different look at things.
Also, this article has been reposted by the kind folks over at Infoshop over here: http://news.infoshop.org/article.php?story=20110629135735982