I’m not sure quite what I expected to happen when I started to get more involved with my trade union.
I think I expected drama – something along the lines of On the Waterfront meets A View from a Bridge, with a little bit of I’m All Right, Jack thrown in for light relief. I would, of course, be Marlon Brando (albeit in female form) and there would be a lot more action – and shouting - involved.
As it is, I seem to spend a lot of time sitting in very dull meetings with management, gazing out the window, doodling and planning that evening’s menu. If truth be told, I’m also struggling to keep up with what is being said.
This isn’t helped by the plethora of acronyms that are used. This is a failing common to all public institutions and I suspect comes from a desire to create in-crowds - who know what they mean and are therefore ‘one of us’ – and ‘out-crowds’ who haven’t got the foggiest idea what is being talked about, and can therefore be controlled through the universal fear of looking like a blithering idiot if they have to ask what ‘OBIS’ (the one that had me foxed) stands for. (For those with restless minds who will be condemned to hours lying awake wondering what it means….tough. Join the club.) Most of the time I fall into the out-crowd – mainly because I have a low boredom threshold and can never be bothered to learn about things that don’t interest me very much. (Hey, it’s a failing but strangely I’ve managed to build a career on this, thanks all the same.)
The downside of this kind of inertia, though, is that it is difficult to contribute when you haven’t a clue what part of the organisation is being referred to.
In the midst of the mind-numbing monotony that surrounds the current negotiations between unions and management over the university's restructuring, there was one electric moment. The Head of Finance commented that in the coming year we need to save £4 million plus whatever else emerges from Osborne’s next budget. Somehow I don’t think savings of that magnitude are going to happen through monitoring the paper clips and cutting back on coffee at meetings.
And that is where I find myself wishing with all my might that this will turn out to be some kind of terrible dream from which I’m going to wake. Gordon will still be in Downing Street, he'll have had a cabinet reshuffle that will see Ed Balls as Chancellor, and the Tories will have just made Sir Peter Tapsell their leader. Now that's a dream and a half. (Lose ten points on the political obsessive stakes if you need to look up who Peter Tapsell is.)
That dreamlike quality says much about the unreality of the days we are living through. There’s much talk about cuts at the moment, but none of us have any idea how bad things are going to get once April rears its ugly head. Ahead of that, we can plan, we can protest, but we are all really waiting to see what happens.
This is the period of the phoney war. We have an inkling of what’s coming, but no more than that.
On Saturday 26 March the TUC’s long awaited march and rally against the cuts to the public sector takes place in
. I’m looking forward to that as it should be a day of solidarity for the labour movement as we prepare for the battle ahead. But I’m also, frankly, scared. We have a government that on a daily basis shows its general incompetence and lack of a policy for growth. Cameron’s embracing of an ethical foreign policy is all very well, given the way in which middle eastern dictatorships are falling down like so many dominoes; but it ignores the extent to which exports are supposed to provide the basis for their planned way out of economic decline. I have no faith that their austerity measures will work and I suspect we will find things rapidly getting worse with little hope of them getting better. London
When it all kicks off I will, no doubt, look back on the boredom of union meetings like this with something approaching fondness.
I guess all we can hope for is that the coming battle leads to something better.