Saturday, July 16, 2011

I have a colleague who teaches Business at the same private school/ college I work in who I would describe as loud, opinionated, right-wing on economic issues and aggressively philistine in the best neo-liberal tradition (intellectualism is pretentious wanking-off). We get on rather well as it happens, we’re similarly attention-seeking and argumentative, but coming from different directions.

Just before I went to Japan last March there was a strike due at Heathrow that fortunately didn’t impact on me but was going to interfere with my colleague’s holiday plans. In the staff room she complained long and loud about the situation and what bastards the unions were to her husband, a self-employed builder. She herself had had run-ins with inflexible, belligerent unions when working in retail back in the early nineties.

Now I would have described her as deeply unsympathetic to the trade union cause, in fact if I wanted to goad her I only had to start saying pro-Union stuff. A couple of weeks ago before the 30th of June demo I mentioned it to her, primarily to wind her up and have a boredom-relieving argument. She was surprisingly moderate on the whole thing. I thought you were anti-Union, I said. She denied this saying that she thought that there w as a role for unions but that the problem was that sometimes they went too far. This is a substantial softening of her position, though she characteristically acted as though she’d always felt this way.

Then yesterday there was a group of A-Level teachers having a moan about the pay and promotion bands, the qualifying criteria and the management's incompetence in addressing their concerns or following up on their promises.

Sounds like you lot want to unionise, I offered in my predictable leftist provocateur pose as I went past, expecting the usual litany of sighs, chuckles, condemnations and anti-Left quips, these are the patterned and predictable games we play, instead there was kind of shrugging silence. As though, y'know, actually, that wasn't such a bad idea

Slightly gobsmacked and keen to create scandal for sad psychological needs of my own I went further. Wildcat strike, Monday! I suggested. Better still wait till the first day of the new term.

Oh, then we’d really all get the sack, another teacher told me.

Now this is only my workplace, and this is only one person, but it is also a pivotal person in terms of the group dynamics, the person who stands up and talks, who argues, who pushes for stuff, who’s prepared to be unpopular: in this small circle an opinion former, a galvanizer, and the last person I would have expected to be moving even slightly leftward, ever. But these small shifts are signs of something, aren’t they? This woman here, that one there, things re-arranging, reality readjusting.

This is not the revolution, Carl, get a grip. It probably won't lead to anything. It’s just the loss of your workplace nemesis.

True enough. But still, trust me, that's not nothing.

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