6th November 2023
There are various reactions to strike action, especially concerning striking university staff. Some students are thankful for the absence of their 9am lectures. Others condemn moaning academics for wasting the £9,000 we students pay for our tuition. It is easy to hold a willing ignorance to the real causes of these strikes, allying with the side against those rooting for yourselves, being fooled by misleading headlines driving students against striking staff. So please ask yourself, why are university staff forced to strike so their fundamental rights can be heard? I’ll give you a little hint; it is not because they are a little bit strapped for cash.
As students, we know the basics of what is happening within the university. However, what surprises me is how many people are yet to understand why these things are happening. Of course, your lecturer informs you that lectures are cancelled next week because of said strikes. An unidentifiable group are hoisted around the Sydney Jones. You see a tweet demanding you to ‘not cross the picket line’ emerging on your timeline. But what does this all mean?
The University and College Union (‘UCU’) is a British trade union in further education. They represent over 120,000 academics and support staff. This includes teaching staff, trainers, instructors, researchers, managers, administrators, librarians, technicians, and many more academic-related professional services staff.
In November 2022, we witnessed the biggest strike in the history of higher education. Over 70,000 staff at 150 universities across the UK partook in a three-day strike action over attacks on pay, working conditions and pensions. This strike occurred after UCU members crushingly voted ‘yes’ to industrial action in two national ballots. The union demanded a pay rise to assist the cost-of-living crisis, end insecure contracts, and deal with critically high workloads. As a result, employers imposed a pay rise. However, this was merely worth 3%. On average, university staff contribute two days of additional unpaid work per week. Whilst a third of academic staff are on some form of temporary contract.
In the dispute on pension, the UCU is demanding employers revoke the cuts and restore benefits. The cuts made earlier this year will see the average member lose 35% of their guaranteed future retirement income. For those in the earlier stages of their careers, this loss will regrettably be in the hundreds of thousands of pounds.
According to the UCU general secretary Jo Grady, ‘[university staff] have had enough of falling pay, pension cuts and gig-economy working conditions – all whilst vice-chancellors enjoy lottery win salaries and live it up in their grace and favour mansions’. In what world do you think this is fair?
You may be questioning, as a student, what you could do to help and why this affects you. University vice-chancellors have already called for a rise in tuition fees, increasing the mountain of debt which awaits you after graduation. Through the marketisation of education, worsening conditions are rising for students and staff. Money is being thrown at marketing strategies to attract investors and seduce business sponsors. Surely this means cutbacks are being made in other areas too. Let me jog your memory back to when universities offered students in Manchester accommodation in Liverpool. But hey! I heard HSBC offers a free railcard if you set up a student bank account with them, so don’t worry.
Student Officer, Kathryn Manley, shares her thoughts on the strikes.
Students are not getting the experience they deserve, and it’s not because of striking staff or their lectures. It’s because they are being used as cash cows and as a way to increase profit. From the gender, ethnic and disability pay gaps to the casualisation of workers, the exploitative way that Post Graduate Research (PhD) students are being treated, as well as staff not getting the pensions they deserve. University staff are truly being treated abysmally, and students are seeing the impact.Kathryn Manley – Deputy President of the Guild
Here are a few ideas if you are a student and wish to show solidarity with striking staff but need to know how.
First, avoid crossing the picket line. A picket line is where workers and union reps stand outside a workplace, informing others why they are striking. By not going to university on the days when strike action is taking place, you are not crossing the picket line, exemplifying how you support the strike.
Second, convince others to support the strike. This can be done through the power of speech, informing your friends to read up on the strike action. One retweet goes along with the power of social media. Third, pressure the university by writing to your vice chancellor or an MP. Fourth, sign the National Union of Students letter to employer organisations for University Staff.
I say to all students out there, please continue to stand in solidarity with striking staff and all those across the higher education sector. Please visit staff on the picket lines, come along to teach-outs, attend rallies, email senior management and tell your lecturers you support the strikes.Kathryn Manley – Deputy President of the Guild
By showing solidarity, you are supporting staff and your fellow students too! Staff working conditions are students’ learning conditions.
You know what, I think Marx was onto something pretty big when he said, ‘workers of the world, unite.’
If you want more information, you can visit the UCU hub on the Liverpool Guild website: https://www.liverpoolguild.org/making-change/campaigns/ucu-hub.
Cover image by: Shutterstock