Language of protest: Is this a war?

“If you amplify everything your hear nothing”
– Jon Stewart, Rally for Sanity and/or Fear, 30 October 2010

The latest item on the various strikes and protests (mostly against the austerity measures) is the news that teachers may strike over the alleged privatisation of the state education system, and the policies of the coalition government.

This is perhaps the broadest objection I’ve heard so far. Strikes against austerity measures tended to be about cuts to a specific department, yet this doesn’t seem to mention austerity. Instead, the NASUWT has referred to “ideologically driven attacks” on the education system.

I leave it to others to discuss the merits of the union position on education reforms – I suspect others are better versed than me in the details of the relevant legislation.

Nevertheless, I can’t help but wonder about the language used. The NASUWT has called the plans a “vicious assault” with one head teacher suggesting that the government is behaving as if it is “at war”. This sort of wording will be familiar to anyone who has read anything to do with any of the strikes of the last two years. The terms “war”,”fight”, “attack”, “assault” and “vicious” are regularly used, partly because they neatly imply that there are two totally opposed sides, but mostly because they contribute to vivid imagery.

Leaving aside whether you believe this language is appropriate or not, is its continued use helpful? The quote at the top of this article neatly summarises my thoughts: that the true extent of future damage to a country through policy could be lost if everything becomes analogous to a war in which lives are lost.