Actually, we don’t know that there will. We know that unions have voted to strike, but as, I understand it (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-15791167) legally, nobody is obliged to announce that he or she will actually strike. It is possible that the unions vote for strike action, but that every single person will decide to turn up for work, but that is extremely unlikely. It is logical to suppose that the people who did vote for strike action will, mostly, be striking.
Of course, you cannot run a school without knowing that the teachers will turn up. So, on Wednesday 30th November 2011, my children’s school will be closed for the day. Closing in sympathy with a strike is illegal, but closing ‘because you cannot guarantee safe supervision of the children’ is not. However, the Oldham Music Centre is, I believe, still open, and Sam’s cello teacher has decided that she will not strike this time, so he still has his cello lesson.
Now, to get to the point. Which is about what I should do with my children on the strike day, and whether or not I agree with the strike. It is complicated.
First, we must consider the reason for the strike.
To gain sympathy for a strike action, you would expect that the strikers would explain the reason to the affected public. I should be so lucky. I don’t get told anything. However, as far as I can make out, the ‘official’ reason is:
Workers paying into public service pensions [this would be an occupational pension, paid for from salary, and not the state pension, which you get as well] will have to pay more, and work longer to receive smaller pensions, under the government’s plans.
But hang on a minute. Everybody is having to pay more for a decent pension, and work harder, and for longer, so why are public sector workers any different? I do not propose to go into this much longer. I know that a great many people, for one reason or another, do not pay into an occupational pension and are relying on the state pension to get by. I know that the state pension age has to go up, just in order to justify it. I actually agree that the occupational pension payment age and the normal retirement age should also go up, to match. (Originally, you started receiving a state pension when you were ‘too old to work’ and most people died after only a few years of retirement.) I know that a populace that is healthy for longer needs to get used to the fact that it has to work longer. I also agree with the observation that ‘people shouldn’t be given large pay rises at the end of the career just to bump up there pension’. I have not checked the details, but ministers claim that their reforms are going to make pensions pay, but that public sector pensions will still compare well against private sections. For example,
“The Teachers’ Pension Scheme will remain one of the best available and fair to taxpayers and teachers. The current offer means teachers will continue to receive a pension that is better than anything offered to most private sector staff.”
So, if the unions think that I should sympathise with their plight, they’re going to have to take a considerably greater deal of trouble to explain it properly. Because the arguments I am hearing are that the strikers need to have a look at the real world, at the economic climate, at the recession, at the failing economies in other countries, at the fact that pensions won’t be paid at all, unless something is done about the pension plans.
Now, we have examined, briefly, the reason for the strike, and considered whether it is a just reason. The issues are contentious. Maybe you agree that the reason is good and justified, maybe you don’t. But we can’t stop there. We have several alternatives:
- The strike reason is justified, and we support the strike.
- The strike reason is wrong to begin with, and we do not support the strike.
- We agree with the reason, but we do not support the strike, because we think that the means does not justify the end.
- We do not agree with the reason, but we support the right of the strikers to hold a different opinion and we think that they have a democratic right to strike, so we support the strike.
Now, we can see that it is a lot more complicated than we at first thought. I have considered the matter. I think it would be a good idea to consult what is called ‘the just war theory’. I didn’t study this at school, but it’s on Wikipedia: The Catholic Catechism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Just_War) suggests the following criteria, and I think they are fairly reasonable:
- the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
- all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
- there must be serious prospects of success;
- the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power as well as the precision of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.
1) Will the damage inflicted by the government in imposing changes to the pension by ‘lasting, grave and certain’? Actually, no. There is a possibility for negotiation, in which case the pension plans could be changed. So they are not certain.
Moreover, carrying the strike through might jeopardise this negotiation.
2) Are all other means of solving the conflict shown to be impractical or ineffective? I think not. I think there is still some chance for negotiation. Strikes should only be resorted to when negotiation on its own breaks down. Are there any other ways besides striking or negotiation? Yes; the possibility was mooted of ‘work to rule’. Some people voted for ‘work to rule’ and other similar action short of a strike. In which case, maybe these forms of action should be tried first.
3) Will there be reasonable chance of success? Well, there might. After the last strike, there was a change made, so that people nearing retirement age will not have the same restrictions. But does this mean another strike will produce another success? The minister suggests not:
4) Will the strike action cause evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated? Clearly, the answer is yes. I am sure that it is not necessary to elaborate. We can take here ‘the evil to be eliminated’ as ‘a reduction in pension benefits or salary, or both’. The strike is being arranged deliberately so that as many ordinary people as possible, who are not responsible for the changes in pension, will be affected. In acting thus, the strikers lose respect and credibility. Are they going to get sympathy from people who would be very happy with the new pension proposals? Or are they going to be accused of winging and invited to take a look at the real world? The people who should be affected are the government ministers involved in making the decisions, and nobody else.
So, three out of four ‘just causes’ not satisfied, and one ‘maybe’.
It is only after examining the facts of the case objectively, and then considering all aspects, that we can come to any conclusion.
Finally, I have been invited elsewhere to come out with my position, which is this:
I do not agree with the reason for striking. And furthermore, after testing the strike action against ‘just war theory’, I do not hold that this particular strike is a fair or just strike, and I do not support the strikers in their desire to strike and will not support their strike action. Of course, since the school is closed, I will be unable to send my children to school. But I hold that I am still legally responsible for educating them that day, and I will probably ask for work to be sent home for them to do that day. Or I will educate them my own way, as I would if I were home schooling (although, the libraries and art gallery will be closed as well, for the strikes).
I would like to thank my friends, who pushed me into examining my own feelings on the matter.