PCS verbiage

Submitted by Matthew on 28 March, 2012 - 11:15

The PCS union Executive’s statement on why it was overruling the 73% vote from PCS members for a further strike on 28 March against the Government’s pension changes promised instead a hope of “industrial action... before the end of April”.

Leave aside, for now, the substance of the matter, and consider only the language. We know that the PCS leaders are promising, or suggesting, that PCS members will strike for one day in late April.

Yet the statement never uses the verb “strike”. Instead it speaks always of “taking strike action”, or “taking industrial action”. This usage has become common in the unions.

Partly this is a matter of a general striving for turgid language. Officials and academics think they can seem more self-important and learned by never using a clear single-syllable word when they can instead be opaque and use seven syllables.

There is an extra twist. Taking a break, taking a nap, taking a drink... all convey the idea of a short swerve after which we quickly return to what we were doing before. “Taking strike action” connotes a momentary digression, whereas “striking” is open-ended. To replace the verb “strike” by “take strike action” is to create a presupposition that all strikes are short protests.

As George Orwell put it, the “invasion of one’s mind by ready-made phrases... can only be prevented if one is constantly on guard against them, and every such phrase anaesthetises a portion of one’s brain”.

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