I never thought I’d say this but I actually miss stumbling to 9ams. For me, the combination of the immaculately timed Beast From The East and the University and College Union strikes spells boredom. But this week I came to the realisation that no matter how weary I am, I can’t physically cross a picket line.
Of course, it isn’t hard to put one foot in front of the other and dodge a few banners, but the tutors, lecturers and professors I see protesting are so driven by the dwindling conditions of their employment rights that I, and many of us, can’t overlook the issue. The strikers I’ve spoken to over the last couple of weeks (since the strikes commenced on February 26) have been movingly interactive. By openly sharing their views with anybody who will stop and listen, they are helping students to understand the reason why their action is so necessary.
I can’t say the same for certain members of the institution – I’m talking to you Principal and Vice-Chancellor- who don’t seem to be having the same impact on the student body. It would be interesting for the head of our university to directly contribute to the debate, and perhaps offer something more than a weekly email with updates of limited development. Though I understand he may not be able to change what the current Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pension scheme is doing to our staff, a clear display of solidarity – one that is expressed directly to us – would be more appropriate in such a heated, emotional environment.
Picket lines won’t be crossed by the majority of students, not because we don’t want to learn, but because we respect the people who are standing in front of us
The USS pension scheme has been estimated to make cuts of 40%, or £200,000, on pensions over the course of retirement for the average member of the UCU – having huge implications for the financial security of our staff in their older years. This is a shocking figure, and one that is understandably motivating for so many.
Unsurprisingly, the strikes are not just affecting one but two communities. The staff and the students work together, and if one isn’t present the other immediately feels their absence. The last few weeks of industrial action have disrupted our routines and in doing so, have highlighted the importance of the people who guide our education. Therefore, supporting the social wellbeing of those who support ours on a daily basis only seems fair. How are we expected, the students who pay £9000 a year to get a degree and essentially buy a career, to upset the tutors who try to prepare us for the future, the lecturers we turn to if we need support?
As the most powerful continue to ignore demands, reject opinions and miss scheduled negotiations, it becomes harder to visualise a resolution. I urge those with authority in this situation to listen to the staff members that most of us would consider to be the backbone of our academic careers. Until then, picket lines won’t be crossed by the majority of students, not because we don’t want to learn, but because we respect the people who are standing in front of us.