This article is an expression of our solidarity with the university staff on the UCU strike in the UK on the 24th, 25th and 30th of November 2022. It provides all the information you need about the strikes and how you can show your support to UCU members.
Last month, members of the trade union, University and College Union (UCU), voted a resounding ‘yes’ to take industrial action against 1) pay and working conditions and 2) pension cuts. Over 70,000 university staff across 150 universities will be striking on the following days, making it the biggest strike in history to hit UK universities:
· Thursday 24th November
· Friday 25th November
· Wednesday 30th November
In addition, from 23rd November, staff will begin industrial action, including working to rule, refusing to make up work lost due to strike action, and refusing to cover for absent colleagues.
It is estimated that these strikes will impact 2.5 million students. However, all of this disruption could be mitigated if employers act fast and meet the UCU’s demands – we are speaking to you, Stuart Croft. Not only has the Vice Chancellor attempted to villanise the staff going on strike, but created a false narrative around the reasons for the strike, making it seem as if it is a selfish motive. Let’s try to remember the following very crucial words, the NUS Vice President of HE, Chloe Fields said: “staff teaching conditions are students' learning conditions”.
The UCU has Four key demands:
1. A pay rise to manage the cost-of-living crisis
Last year, the UK University sector made a record £41.1 billion. These profits have not been reflected in the wage rises of university employees. In fact, pay rises granted to the staff at universities have yet to rise above the inflation rate. In some cases, they have failed even to meet inflation rises, which is essentially receiving a pay cut. Moreover, Warwick University itself has outrageous pay inequalities, with a gender pay gap of 20% and a racial pay gap of around 13% across its staff members!
If Universities have money to channel into vanity projects (think, FAB), they have money to pay a decent wage to their workers. Remember, the Vice Chancellor, Stuart Croft, has chosen not to raise the wages of Warwick staff members.
2. An end to insecure contracts
One third of academic staff are on a temporary contract. Working precariously has devastating implications for mental and physical health, and makes it hard for the employee to make long-term financial and family plans.
The fact that these contracts keep the staff on their toes, always looking for other opportunities due to the nature of the work that they do. It means that students don’t have the security of academics either. This affects every individual’s learning experience too. Hence, the strikes are not only for the betterment of the employees of the university but for a better learning experience for us, the students, too.
3. A manageable workload
The workload expected of academics is almost impossible, with reports of university academics being pushed to breaking point. There has developed an implicit expectation that university staff members will react immediately to student demands. In addition, the emphasis on admin and statistics requires academics to complete masses of paperwork alongside their other work commitments. Effectively this plays out as academics doing unpaid work. In fact, a recent study has shown that academics on average spent the equivalent of two days a week doing unpaid work!
4. A reversal of pension cuts
Earlier this year, University UK and USS announced a 35% cut on the pensions of university workers. This cut is completely unjustified and unnecessary, and will have severe implications to the quality of life for staff members when they retire.
Ultimately, the UCU members are simply demanding for university staff to be treated with dignity. By doing-so, they face a lot of barriers.
Strikers always get bad press. During these strikes, academics will likely face lambaste for “wasting students’ money”, “letting their students down”, and “jeopardizing students’ degrees”. However, strikers are never to blame for the repercussions of them not working. If employers treated their with respect, strikes would not need to happen. If your lecturer is on strike, Stuart Croft put them there.
There are also structural barriers that limit the effectiveness of industrial action and strike action. Perversely, Warwick’s campus has been purposefully designed to prohibit strike and industrial actions. Established in 1965, much of Warwick’s campus was built when the UK was experiencing high waves of strikes and industrial action across many sectors, including universities. Warwick’s architectural layout makes it impossible for the entrance to the university to be blocked.
However, there are ways you can help the UCU members to win their demands. You can:
- Email Warwick’s Vice Chancellor, Stuart Croft and let him know you stand in solidarity with UCU members. His email is: S.Croft@warwick.ac.uk and if you want a template email, you can use the one linked here: template email
- Email staff members to let them know you support them in striking, and also to check how they are feeling. Remember, academics love what they do, so giving up their work for a day will be really hard for them!
- Join staff members on the picket-line (on Thursday 24th from 8.30 AM and Friday 25th from 10 AM, the picket line will be by Varsity Pub or University Interchange; on Wednesday 30th, the picket line will be in Central London)
- Boycott Warwick outlets – The money made from Warwick’s outlets - its cafes, Rootes Grocery store, the Dirty Duck Pub, etc. - clearly is not reflected in the staff member's wages. Instead, it gets reinvested into Warwick’s and Stuart Croft’s vanity projects. So until the UCU demands are met, let’s boycott Warwick outlets!
Warwick ThinkTank Society supports all university staff going on strike and we encourage everyone to engage in conversations around this issue.
This article was written by Caitlin Hoyland and Drishti Patel