Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Poem for the Picket Line

I had hoped to pop down south today for the ‘Morris in Oxford’ walk led by Martin Stott, but morning duty on the trade union picket line at Lancaster University campus has been calling instead, followed by afternoon radical ‘Teach-Outs’ at the Gregson Institute in town.  Our strike against the attempt by UUK (Universities UK, i.e., the employers) to savagely cut academic pensions has so far proved tremendously invigorating, and is amounting indeed, as it goes on, to nothing less than the reinvention of the idea of the university against its wholesale marketisation in recent decades.

Colleagues from English Literature and Creative Writing brought poems to the picket line this morning, and though I didn’t get to read mine out at the event itself, I thought I’d offer it here.  Since William Morris visited Lancaster on a political lecturing tour in November 1886, I chose one of his Chants for Socialists, but felt I might take the liberty of tweaking it a little for our current needs.  So here is my version, which I dedicate to Lancaster’s Vice-Chancellor Mark E. Smith who, unlike many other VCs up and down the country, has not yet come out in support of his staff against UUK on the pensions issue.  Morris’s three-stanza poem ‘No Master’ therefore in 2018 becomes ‘No VC’:

Saith lecturer to student, we’ve heard and known
That we no VC need
To live upon this campus, our own,
In fair and manly deed.
The grief of academics long passed away
For us has forged the chain,
Till now each worker’s patient day
Built up the House of Pain.

And we, shall we too, crouch and quail,
Ashamed, afraid of strife,
And lest our lives untimely fail
Embrace the Death in Life?
Nay, cry aloud, and have no fear,
We few against the world;
Awake, arise!  The hope we bear
Against UUK is hurled.

It grows and grows – are we the same,
The feeble band, the few?
Or what are these with eyes aflame,
And hands to deal and do?
This is the host that bears the word,
No VC high or low –
A lightning flame, a shearing sword,
A storm to overthrow.

On ‘Or what are these … ‘ I was going to make a big sweeping outward gesture to the hundred plus pickets – one hundred and seventy yesterday! – who have been turning up at the Lancaster campus main entrance for the last fortnight.  That Oxford Morris walk, delightful as it would have been, will have to wait till next year.

1 comment:

Tony Pinkney said...

Our local UCU officials and organisers - Julie Hearn, Nils Markusson, Joanne Wood and Jacob Phelps among them - have been inspirational throughout this dispute. A very big collective thank-you to them!