“They are casting their problems at society. And, you know, there’s no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look after themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then, also, to look after our neighbours.” Margaret Thatcher. Woman’s Own 1987
Early 70’s Britain was a turbulent place to be. Rampant inflation, a declining economic base, shockingly inept management, and growing discontent in the workforce. As a country we were woefully unprepared for any onslaught. The oil producing countries of the middle east started to hike the price of a barrel and soon after Britain’s were eating cold beef dripping sandwiches by candlelight. It wasn’t good.
There have always been two standout moments for me from the period.
The first was a strike for pay by the Yorkshire Miners in the early part of the decade. There were lots of strikes in them days as people tried to keep pace with inflation and management tried to keep a lid on costs. This strike was different. The miners were not striking for themselves they were striking for nurses working in the hospitals. The nurses needed better pay just to exist but wouldn’t go on strike because that would hurt the patients. The management knew this and played on it refusing any pay increases and generally treating nurses terribly. I said management was bad and it was dire and not much has changed in that respect. The miners had power, they also had a sense of community and society, so they fought for the nurses to get their pay rise and won. It was the perfect example of working people standing together and looking out for each other because they understood social cohesion, that the whole is made up of a myriad of parts and if you harm one you harm all.
The second was the arrival of Margaret Thatcher and almost instantaneously the unseen web that held society together began to unravel. The nation became a selfish, self centred, greedy place. A place of ‘some’ being better than others and the longer it has gone on that ‘some’ has got smaller and smaller. A place where looking away was common, if it wasn’t your industry being decimated then don’t get involved. And if it was, look out for yourself and try and get the other persons job. Buy the council house, stick on a new front door and proclaim to the whole street how much better you are.
When I look back to ascertain how we got to where we are today it is in 1987 where the wedge finally got rammed home. How could a human being, someone who was part of a community of people say ‘there is no such thing as society’. That was the tipping point. The point that brought us to Trump and Johnson and Farage and Robinson.
In the next few days lecturers across the country will be taking strike action to protect their livelihood with pensions, pay, and conditions all points of contention with management. How it has come to this in a place of academia that is supposed to hold our brightest people is beyond comprehension. I do know a little, quite a lot actually, about the conditions that lecturers work under and it is bad. Put upon by management, stressed to the point of illness, this is not a safe or fruitful working environment. At some point the two sides will have to come together but in the meantime the management are not covering themselves in glory. Asking students to inform them of the non attendance of lecturers is not a good move.
Students attend university to learn, to have their minds expanded, and to experience the new and seemingly impossible. That requires the very best teachers our country has to offer. And, for what it is worth, as a student that is what I have received in my time at university. If university management is allowed to undermine the quality of teaching, the country as a whole will pay the price. I will support the strike and not cross a picket line.
We are a society. If you harm one you harm all.