Thursday, April 19, 2018

A world elsewhere

With 24-hour cable news and that stuff from the old networks, you might think you have a pretty good handle on the world and all its crises.  You also might think everybody is obsessed with our American obsessions:  porn actresses and their lawyers, dramatic weather, the occasional outbreak of some disease that could have been prevented by better food inspection, and a federal government  whose executive branch would make William M. Tweed moan with envy.  This is why I try to watch the BBC news, with its coverage of Asian elections, African economy and the permanent state of war in the Middle East.  And then I go read The Guardian.

Even I was unprepared, however, for this opening sentence in the April 5 London Review of Books:   "The university strikes reached the end of their fourth week just before the start of the Easter break."  What now?  Malcolm Gaskill goes on to say that over a million students have been affected at 65 universities, including the ones Americans have heard of, Oxford and Cambridge.  The issue is the same one that has brought public school teachers out on unprecedented state-wide strikes in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky and elsewhere:  money, and the government's determination to screw them out of it.  Specifically, the Universities Superannuation Scheme (love those British bureaucracies) wants to reduce the pensions of academics, librarians and administrators by as much as sixteen thousand pounds a year.  (In 2014, the top earner at the USS got a raise to nine hundred thousand pounds a year, and that money has to come from somewhere.)  Of course, students now have to come up with thousands in tuition, leaving many graduates as much as fifty thousands pounds in debt (welcome to our world).

Coverage of the American teachers' strikes has been spotty, with emphasis on Republican governors comparing them to ISIS or Hitler, yawn.  Coverage of the university action:  nil.  The guest list for Prince Harry's wedding is more absorbing, apparently.  I have to wonder if American teachers know their British colleagues are as fed up as they are with being squeezed out of the jobs they love by the need to make a living now and to survive in retirement.  Ever since the Thatcher catastrophe of the 1980s, Britain has been getting more like the United States -- the same LRB has a very long, detailed, nauseating account of the slow starvation of the National Health Service in the name of, you guessed it, "freedom" (like the freedom to die on a gurney in the hallway of an overcrowded hospital, if you even make it off the ambulance).  The young, who need teachers, and the old, who need care, simply don't figure in the schemes of the greedy.  I hesitate to suggest that workers of the world unite, which didn't work out well the last time, but damn.  It's time to do something, and I'm in the mood for burning.


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