If you’re one of my not-yet-striking friends and colleagues at a striking HE institution, I’d like to invite you to join UCU right now, and come and join the picket line. Here are my responses to some of the things you’ve said to me or to your striking colleagues:
1)“But it harms the students!” I get it. Cancelled classes are inconvenient. But I’m more concerned about the harm done to my students by what’s happening right now to their places of learning. I’m concerned that they’re being taught and supported by ever more casualised, exhausted staff. I’m concerned about ones who might go into the sector themselves and then be forced right out again by the conditions. I’m worried about the harm done by teaching our students that the way we respond to injustice is to roll over and let it happen. Many students support the strike: Their lives are disrupted by it, but many of them recognise the need for that disruption.
2) (if you’re an academic) “But it only harms ME to stop my research!” No. It doesn’t. You research is work you do for your employer. They need it (for REF and all that jazz). Withdrawing your labour hurts them. Sure, it will be inconvenient for you (and there’s a whole other post to be written about how we’re all being played off against each other in this race to be research superstars), but we’re sharing the cost of this action and it’s working. See point 3.
3) “It will never work!” The number of VCs calling for UUK to re-open negotiations has risen from 3 last week to 18 now. The Universities Minister has called UUK to come back to the negotiating table without preconditions. They haven’t quite done this, but they are under pressure. We are two days in. Just think what we can do if we push a bit harder with your help.
4) “But the money just isn’t there to pay our pensions!” This has been exposed as a lie. Briefly: There’s only a deficit if you assume that all the pre-92 universities are about to go bankrupt at once. If you think that’s a credible risk, then I have some insurance policies to sell you. Even the recent letter from the President of UUK admits “we are open to the possibility that we have not considered every possible angle”. Think about what this actually means in senior-manager-speak.
5) “I can’t afford to strike” For some of you, this is really not bullshit. Maybe you are on a zero-hours contract (again, a whole other post). I understand that, and if the strike fund isn’t enough to make it possible, then please just do what you can. It’s possible, though, that when you said “I can’t afford it” what you meant was “It will be inconvenient”. If so then spare me. Look at your colleagues on the picket lines. A friend of mine recently became the only salary-earner in a previously two-income household, and they’re striking. I’m 4 months into my first stable job and I just moved house and I was really hoping for a couple of financially uneventful months before this whole thing kicked off. But as soon as the strike was called I was striking. Inconvenience and impossibility are not the same thing.
6) “I’m not a big fan of strike action/the union/my union rep” Fine! I’d rather be at work, too. It’s cold out. But look, there are only two options here: One is to strike and make the action more effective, the other is to work and make the strike less effective. There isn’t a neutral option. You don’t have to choose a side to agree with completely, but you do have to choose the one you’re going to support. Because you are going to support a side, whatever you do or don’t do. Make it the one you think is less wrong.
7) “I do support you, but — ” No. Join us. Please. Don’t forget to wrap up warm.