A message to students: why are UCU on strike?

On Tuesday 22nd March and Thursday 24th March members of the University and College Union (UCU) will be taking strike action at the University of Bradford and nationally. Below we provide an overview of the issues:

1. Why are UCU on strike?

The strikes on the 22nd and 24th March are in protest against changes to our pensions. At the national level, our employers blocked any opportunity for members to vote directly on these changes. The Union argues that the changes are extreme and unnecessary. UCU accepted that changes are required – and proposed amendments – but still universities want to worsen the scheme. We want proper negotiations over the future of our pension scheme. We recognise the need for change and have even proposed that we pay more into the scheme.

We have added a further protest on the 24th March on job security and pay, rather than announce another strike day, in order to minimise impact on students. Staff have tolerated effective pay-cuts (in real terms) three years in a row – pay increases that have been up to ten times less than inflation (0.4% increase last September, with inflation over 4%) and below the rate offered to teachers and the police, for example. Traditionally, workers are prepared to sacrifice pay increases in exchange for job security, but the employers have refused to agree a framework for job security nationally. What we want is a proper framework to mitigate job losses and to retain skills in higher education rather than throw people on the dole to make short term ‘efficiencies’. Is that too much to ask?

Despite our best efforts to negotiate, management at a national level have not so far made any of the key compromises that might solve the dispute. The UCU has offered national talks on pensions and agreed to meet through the arbitration service ACAS. MPs and the NUS have also urged the national university employers to agree to ACAS talks, but with no success. The employers, not the union, are refusing to move when it comes to talks to negotiate a resolution.

We are a union of professionals. Our members do not like taking any action that affects students directly or indirectly. It is the same for many public services. However, in this dispute, we are convinced that students will suffer much, much more if we are not successful: an attack on the providers of education is an attack on the value of education and nature of education.

This is not just a dispute about jobs, pensions and redundancies, it is about the future of education and, ultimately, the future of the University of Bradford and other UK universities.

Many, many students have already shown us their support. Please join them in helping us to defend education here and across the UK, just as UCU supported you over the fees issue.

2. What if my lecturer is not striking, and says my classes are going ahead, but I don’t want to cross a picket line?

We recognise some students may not want to do this and our view is that any such opinion should be respected and you should not be penalised for expressing it by refusing to cross a picket line in any way by the University. Please note that for these very reasons, non-UCU members may also be planning to reschedule their classes away from strike days. Please ensure that you check directly with your lecturers or head of department/division. Be aware that lecturers are not obliged in advance to declare that they will be striking, and in some areas they may feel they risk victimisation if they do so. On the whole, though, we anticipate that many of our members will inform students – if not their managers – of their intention to strike.

3. Can I join a picket line?

When workers involved in industrial action stage a protest at or near a workplace to increase support for their cause, this is called picketing. We’d be happy to see students who want to come and support us by visiting us on the picket lines. However, we cannot directly encourage you to join us! We warn you – they’ll be starting at 8am! But you’d be welcome to come and say hello (bring us a cup of tea!) any time up to 12pm. There will only be a handful of us at main entrances handing out leaflets and carrying banners. The picket is a peaceful form of protest used to spread further the reasons why we are taking strike action.

4. Isn’t striking attacking the wrong people – students?

A strike is a withdrawal of labour and it is used as a last resort. Certainly, in all cases it is the end-user, consumer or beneficiary of that labour who temporarily suffers. We consider this a small inconvenience that we are asking students to bear in order to help us fight against the damaging manoeuvres of our employers, which will have a long-term impact on the people you interact with on a daily basis. A strike is a last resort – we have spent months trying to negotiate and talk to management, but to no avail. After all these months, we have finally reached a last resort because the employers have pushed us to this, the last tactic in our negotiating toolbox.

5. Can’t you strike by not undertaking research, rather than withdrawing from teaching?

Many members will be not be undertaking research on 22nd and 24th March, but you may not notice this. Nor will the employers. A boycott only of research would i) have absolutely no impact on the employers, and serve no negotiating purpose whatsoever, ii) is irrelevant to the many members of UCU who administer the University (not all UCU members are academic staff).

6. Are you planning to refuse to assess material as part of your industrial action?

There are no plans as yet to take this action.  Such action has been effective in the past and we only undertake this as an absolutely last resort. Remember, if we are ever in a position to have to do this, then the tutors who do it will face a potential 100% pay deduction. That is to say, they will continue to teach you, advise you, support you, prepare materials for teaching, attend meetings about you, undertake research, but potentially not be paid for any of it because of a withdrawal of a small proportion of labour associated with marking. So, that  move would be an absolute last resort, and only comes about as a result of stubborn management who would push us into a position of doing our job for you for free in order to increase our protest.

7. Where can I get more information about the reasons for the strike?

The UCU website (www.ucu.org.uk) and this blog are the best sources of information on the dispute.

Higher Education in the UK is under attack. All of us are facing the consequences of the short-sighted cuts and marketisation agenda. All of us need to stand firm for what we believe is right and to have our voices heard.


2 thoughts on “A message to students: why are UCU on strike?

  1. Pingback: Strike! | Collections in a Cold Climate

  2. Pingback: A message to students: 22nd & 24th March national strikes: why are UCU on strike? « The Global Awakening

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