What is the purpose of a strike? This question has, until now, remained the province of the unreasonable and inconsiderate. Yet, in these past weeks, it has become the quotidian concern of disillusioned students, bound by an outdated law of inferiority to hold their tongues. But this very questioning and disillusionment – however much supressed by themselves or by others – has shown, to the contrary, that this question is both reasonable and considerate. In fact, by the very asking of it, they have shown a propensity towards the optimism of which this blog so thoroughly approves.
In a manner, we have already answered this question, at least for those who view strikes as a means by which we achieve an end. The University and College Union strike has led to widespread debate; debate about the future of pensions as much as the future of strikes. So, one purpose of a strike is to catalyse thought, and catalyse thought it has. A strike, then, carries the broader purpose of breaking with convention, with its broadest purpose being causation. It is, however, justifiable to ask in what way the UCU strike aims at instigating change when it seeks merely preservation. By this definition it is not a strike. We must seek something further.
Accordingly, we must understand what it is that the UCU are striking against: an alternative pension scheme in which “final pensions would depend on how the stock market performs not on contributions.” But it also demands “guaranteed pensions” and “retirement income for all.” This is a contradiction. Whilst condemning one aspect of capitalism, another is defended – their “right to a fair pension” – unaware that the very system to which it objects has facilitated these savings. It seems rather strange to pick the raisins out of the biscuit when you could just not eat the biscuit at all. But if one were to accept (which one does not have to) that capitalism as a system is mostly beneficial, we must learn to polish it (the system rather than the biscuit).