We are now nearing the end of our planned strikes. Tomorrow will be our last day. There will probably be further strikes in April, May or June if negotiations fail to bring resolution to this dispute, but we will return to work on Monday.
To be honest, I worry about this return to work. Apart from my maternity leaves, this is the longest time I have been away from my desk since I finished my PhD in September 2005. For I have fully withheld my labour. I feel that if, as a lecturer in relatively secure employment, I disrupt students’ learning and delay administrative work, it is only fair that I should not seek to develop my own career by working on my research. I present my sincere apologies to colleagues in other countries to whom I owe pieces of work – I promise they will be ready very soon.
That is not to say that striking was a break. This has not been restful at all. We have stood outside in all weather. We have spent hours on social media trying to rally people to our cause. We have attended teach-out events, open meetings and committees. In many ways, it feels as if we swapped one job for another one.
We also allowed ourselves to dream about better universities. Universities that are not driven by metrics and audit exercises. Universities that are communities of scholars, of people passionate about education.
So it is with some sadness that I will attend our last rally tomorrow, and with mixed feelings that I will return to work on Monday. I know that I am not alone in feeling this way, and perhaps we need some poetic encouragement.
Book 10 of the Greek Anthology (a collection of Greek poems put together in the Byzantine period) is devoted to hortatory and admonitory epigrams, poems that exhort and warn various people. I particularly like the following epigram, by a certain Satyrus (perhaps active in the first century BCE), which encourages sailors to take to the sea in the spring:
Already, the moist wind of Zephyr, who gives birth to grass,
Falls softly on the flowery meadows,
The daughters of Cecrops sing, the calm sea
smiles, undisturbed by the chilly winds.
Take heart sailors, loosen your mooring cables,
and spread out the delicate folds of your ships’ wings.
Go to trade, trusting in kind Priapus.
Go trusting in the god of harbours.
(Greek Anthology 10.6)
May we be of good courage!
This post is dedicated to the memory of Piero Tassinari, my friend and colleague, who passed away on the fourth of October 2017. He loved poetry and sailing and considered education to be a public good. Here is an extract from a film he made with Italian reporter Paolo Rumiz. It is stunning.