Friday, 1 July 2011

Striking - a selfless or selfish gesture?

"Tank Man" stops the advance of a column of tanks on June 5, 1989, in Beijing.
Taken by Jeff Widener of the Associated Press
It's still not clear what happened to 'tank man', but the recording of this
 unknown rebel earned him a feature in Time 100: The Most Important People of the Century.  See "Behind the scenes: Tank Man of Tiananmen" (New York Times), with link to video of the incident.

China still executes more people than any country in the world.  Al Weiwei has been released, but Mao Hengfeng, Nurmemet Yasin, and many human rights defenders, journalists, writers, poets, others willing to speak out, and act, are arrested, and allegations of torture and other ill-treatment are common.  I'm glad David Cameron is still willing to 'raise concerns' when meeting Wen Jiabao, but how far should we go to stand up for others?  Is raising concerns really all David Cameron can do?  If we say or do nothing are we implicitly supporting the abuse of human rights in China?

Yesterday morning I wasn't sure whether or not to join strikers in Birmingham.  I was listening to BBC Radio 4 when Francis Maude finally persuaded me to join the teachers and other public sector workers in their demo:  He talked about the importance of fairness and treating people with respect.  He has also echoed Michael Gove's and Vince Cable's recent comments on the pressure teachers were putting on decent working parents, and threatened of legislation to control union action.

I have little doubt in the legitimacy of the strike.  I can see no justification for reducing pensions for teachers, or so-called 'Martini contract' imposed on public sector workers which will reduce the pay and pension of some of the poorest paid public sector workers.  Nearly all the cabinet really are millionaires, and are not 'sharing the pain'.  I believe they are deflecting attention from the rich getting richer, whose interests they are representing.  But are the changes proposed worth striking for?

The blood on the streets in Tiananmen Square 22 years ago came to be represented by a showdown Tank man and tank driver.  Popping into town to strike to keep pensions isn't quite the same.  Maybe I should be spending my time doing more to highlight abuses of human rights across the world.  Either way my children might not have gone to school but I think they had an important lesson - you can and should stand up for what you think is right, rather than what's in your best interest.

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