Picketing is such a pointless thing to do. I think that’s why we need it.
The picketing day starts earlier than a normal working day.
As a commuter, I’d fork out an extra £30 for a peak train ticket, to travel to work on a day when I wouldn’t be paid, and stand outside in the drizzle, with no access to the loos or cups of tea within.
Picketing is not a day off.
Currently, my commute is a more enjoyable bike ride along the canals. Passing under an A Road thick with rush hour traffic, I find an image for why picketing matters: it runs athwart the daily conveyor belt.
For me, picketing is not political. Nor does it win the action. We might remind a few passing colleagues who aren’t in a Trade Union that signing up is on their to-do list. But that’s not why we’re here. Not now, not in this game.
Standing around on the edges of the university, at work but not working, is the most pointless thing an employee can do. And that’s the whole point, I think. We mill around the various gates, visibly suspending our labour. And suddenly, there’s time to think. And there’s time to talk.
Two things we are paid to do, but when we’re working there is never time to do them.
I think that picketing is the only time I really see my co-workers as humans. The rest of the time, we’re too busy scrabbling to keep up with everything to really see and hear each other. On the picket, we find out what it’s actually like for each other, this game, and we find surprising connections between our interests, our projects, our teaching experiences.
It’s like common rooms used to be, when staff had tea breaks.
And picketing allows me to be human. To smile and say hello to students, security staff, contractors, delivery workers, visitors, administrators, human resources, librarians, caterers, people emerging from vans with mysterious logos, and passers by whose route brings them along the university’s perimeter.
Everybody, anybody. Not because we want something from them, or they want something from us, not with half an eye on all the things we are both falling behind on, but because they happen to be passing through this little bubble which has been rendered so pointless by our picket.
Most of them are only too happy to enjoy a few seconds or minutes of our picketing pointlessness. They can take a leaflet if they’re interested, but that’s not why I’m here. I’m here to reconfigure everything that led to this point, to rediscover the pointlessness that is essential to this work, if it is to have any point to it after all.
And then, a cup of tea has never tasted so good.