Published: 16th February, 2022
In this first edition of our new series of Picket blog posts, one Leicester UCU member reflects on why they’re striking.
If you would like to contribute to this ongoing series, please forward any pieces to Cara Dobbing, Communications Officer (email@example.com). This may be a reflection of a particular day’s picketing, or a wider reflection on how you feel about the current disputes.
So here we are again: another round of UCU strike action in the fight for pay equity, a decent pension and sustainable workloads. Striking is hard: it can be cold and wet on the picket. It’s not what anyone wants to do. Pay is docked. Students suffer as collateral damage. I ask myself why I am inexorably heading out to stand in the cold and wind.
My students have been forewarned. They will miss at least a week’s worth of content and support – probably more. But they are supportive. One emails “could you point me at some material for this topic because I have been really looking forward to it and want to understand the concepts for myself. By the way I fully support your strike action”. By-and-large, students get it: management attacks on staff are also attacks on students.
I am striking because there is no other option left open to us by intransigent Vice Chancellors. I am striking because some colleagues remain hoodwinked, or blind, to the consequences of ignoring the current threats to us all. I am striking because I can afford to, whereas colleagues earlier in their careers cannot, or dare not risk the wrath of management who threaten their very jobs. I am striking because our managers have demonstrated through a brutal compulsory redundancy programme that they will discard anyone they feel like getting rid of with trumped up justifications and complete lack of respect or compassion. Lifelong careers trashed, mental health decimated and staff morale irretrievably thrown under a bus.
The picket line is bright and breezy (in both senses!) There is music. There are dogs. Students have joined in support. I meet a colleague not seen since the start of lockdown. It’s good. Twitter is alive with messages of support from colleagues who are striking digitally from home. In these days of home working the picket line is just the tip of the iceberg along which universities are grinding.
Will we ‘win’? I don’t know. But what I do know is that striking staff really care about the institution of the University. They care about the ability to research unfettered by managerial interference, to teach with sufficient resource, time and support to do a good job. They care about their colleagues. And they care deeply about students.
Contrast this to VCs who have vowed to withhold all pay, indefinitely, from those staff who – in adhering to legal ‘Action Short of a Strike’ – refuse to subsequently make available missing coursework. In doing so VCs are displaying a complete misunderstanding of how teaching actually works. My students have missed a week’s work. That’s bad; but the material will not now be examined so the damage is limited.
But hold on! VCs are now saying they will force staff to make their students ‘catch-up’ in Reading Week (or when?) It’s not just a couple of lectures, but a full programme of digesting background material, engaging with recorded support material, doing quizzes and attending face-to-face discussion sessions. Maybe labs? And it will be out of sequence. It will be examinable. It will be right before exams. And it will be on top of those students’ ongoing workloads and stresses. That’s going to go down well in the NSS isn’t it? In taking their bullying approach to staff, VCs are also attacking their own students!
That’s why I’m striking.