The below opinion piece by Markus Hansen, a member of the St Andrews Socialist Society, chronicles the events leading up to, and the reasoning behind, the much talked about (but perhaps rarely illuminated) UCU strikes.
In February and March, university lecturers, professors, and researchers will go on strike across the UK for a total of fourteen days. This is due to a dispute between the University and College Union (UCU) and Universities UK (UUK) over the pension scheme called University Superannuation Scheme (USS). An independent analysis concluded that the suggested change to the USS would cut the pensions of university lecturers and professors with £6000-9600 annually, or a total of £129000-208000 total. If this sounds drastic; it’s because it is.
The strike was announced with an 88% vote in favour by the members of the UCU. This is hardly surprising, seeing as the labour market for academics is only increasingly precarious and cutthroat, with fierce competition for fewer jobs. With many years of austerity, the financial crisis of 2007 seems to have been perpetual for university employees. It was not more than one and a half years ago that the UCU had to call for a strike due to a 14% fall in wages for its members. Currently, 40% of teaching staff and 33% of researchers at St Andrews are on zero-hour contracts. This serves management well, but staff obviously receives the long end of the proverbial stick.
The UUK wants to take advantage of this situation, using it as leverage to financially ‘squeeze’ academic workers across Britain all the harder. The members of the UCU have demonstrated that the answer to this situation is not giving up on labour and compensation rights; on the contrary, fighting back collectively and organizing to form a coherent front can alleviate the situation in favour of those who sell their labour everyday.
The university management is doing its best to exploit the labour of its academic employees harder and harder by providing a continually diminishing compensation. This development, as some of us know, is happing alongside a drastic and apparently never-ending rise in tuition fees across the UK (Scotland has luckily been able to avoid this for domestic and EU undergrads, at least for the time being) and a general defunding of education, which has lead to significant student protest, from the movement of 2010, to rent strikes today.
All in all, a picture is painting itself; the universities in the UK are being run for-profit, as a business. In order to maximize profits, students are being charged exorbitant tuition fees, and professors, researchers, and staff are having their compensations cut, or are forced into more work with less pay. The only thing that can oppose this development is collective action and solidarity between staff, lecturers and students. We must demand a university for its people, not profit.
As a student, you can help the strike in multiple ways:
–Write to the Principal, Sally Mapstone, tell her that you support the strikers, and that it is unacceptable that the brazen proposal of the UUK leads to a situation where you are unable to receive your education. She is on the board of the UUK. Demand that she calls for a reconsideration of the proposal.
–Spread awareness of the strike. Talk to your classmates, friends, and family about the proposal, and why it must be opposed. Post on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.
–Tell your professors that you support them, and that you won’t blame them for classes you might miss. Strikes can be stressful affairs, especially as 14 days worth of wages can be a drastic amount for many.
–Don’t show up to class! Don’t go to the library, or use any of the university buildings on the days of the strike. The goal is to disrupt the normal operation of the university, which will be more effective if we collectively engage in the strike.
–Show up on the picket lines to support your lecturers and professors. Maybe even bring tea, coffee and biscuits. This is especially important in the final stretch of the strike, as this is the longest and most fatiguing period of continuous striking. Bring your mates and have a good time.
The strike dates are:
Thursday 22 February to Friday 23 February
Monday 26 February to Wednesday 28 February
Monday 5 to Thursday 8 March
Monday 12 March to Friday 16 March
See you on the picket line!