Educational staff strikes are a strange one for students’ unions. Many aren’t quite sure what to do… Do we condemn the strike action for negatively affecting students? Or do we support the strike action in the interests of the students? To me the answer to that question is quite simple… But let me continue
Students’ union officers across the country have all sorts of different Facebook groups and mailing lists for contacting each other for support and for sharing thoughts and ideas. In the run up to this strike, there has been a lot of officers across the country asking for tips in these fora on how to write a statement against the strike action, how to put pressure on UCU to minimise the action and some even writing joint statements with their institutions against this action. Many see the strikes as anti-student.
However, I am pleased to say that these appeals have been met with strong counterfire from those officers who support the action taking place today and who understand that the effect on students from these strikes is the only leverage that staff have left.
Yes, we are students’ unions and yes, strike action can have a negative effect on students – that is the point … but I can think of a few things that have a much deeper, a much more long-term and a much more systematic, harmful and worrying effect on students:
Staff facing continuous and incessant real terms pay reductions
A 12.6% pay gap between men and women
Staff on increasingly precarious contracts, with over 21,000 staff on zero hours contracts in the UK.
Without a staff team who feel valued, get rewarded for the work that they do and who aren’t paid less according to their gender, students will have teachers who are disenfranchised, unengaged and alienated from the sector that they have often dedicated their life’s work to. If this government and Universities are serious about improving the student experience, this certainly is not the way to go about it.
We at Bristol SU are proud to stand in solidarity with those who are striking today. Not just because it is the ethical thing to do… but also because it is within our students’ interests. To not see that supporting the action is within students’ interests is short-sighted and ignores the big picture.
We are currently experiencing one of the most militant and vicious acts of marketisation and privatisation that the UK Higher Education sector has ever faced. The government’s recent White Paper paves the way for increases in fees, the opening up of the sector to private providers and an even more increased focus on neoliberal competition.
And some of the only people that seem to be standing up against these attacks on the sector are the Unions and it is becoming increasingly important that we stand together. Unions are under attack. The government’s trade union bill shows this and the recent media smear of our NUS leadership shows this. It is so important that we realise our commonality in the face of these threats, that we come together in solidarity and that we be loud about it. We need to be loud, we need to be big and we need to be angry.
And against marketisation
We call on UCEA to go back to the negotiating table, to listen to UCU’s demands and to stop taking universities most valuable assets for granted.