It’s Groundhog day. Again. Next week, UCU staff are balloting for strike action that, if successful, would take place before Christmas. We’ve been on the picket line twice in the last 3 years, and still, we have seen no progress in bettering working conditions and stopping the decimation of the pensions of university & college staff. University management has taken a lead from the prevailing winds of political change and taken part in what can only be described as disaster capitalism: using the confusion and exhaustion of the pandemic to ram through redundancies at Leicester, Liverpool and Goldsmiths to name but a few. What’s more, since we were on the picket line last (that was cut short because of the outbreak of covid), the government have fanned the flames of a culture war against universities; we apparently stifle free speech and ‘cancel’ people, and the daily rags of hate that do the government’s bidding continue to publish falsehoods and lies. We seem to be public enemy number 1. In short, it’s a bad time to work at universities.
However, university managers (along with the ignorant politicians that they pander to) are over-stepping the mark. I believe they are misreading the righteous fury that has built up in the sector and among our wonderfully dedicated students. The crippling overwork, rampant casualisation, the risible pay and the ever-expanding gender and ethnicity pay gaps, and not to mention the theft of our pensions – they all stem from the same core push: to grind university and FE workers down, and commodify education further in the process. And you know what? Right now, it’s working. No doubt we’re exhausted. Our collective mental health is through the floor.
But they’ve pushed us too far. Yes, we’re exhausted, but if we don’t act now, it will get a whole lot worse, very quickly. Now is not the time to give up. Now is the time for hope!
So speak to colleagues. Share your concerns. Encourage union members to return their ballots. Speak to your students. Allay their fears (that have been stoked by a misinformed and hostile media). The NUS are in support, after all, our working conditions are student’s learning conditions. Strike funds are being generously supported. Teach-ins are being organised so students can continue to learn. But most importantly, striking has worked.
But, our the window of opportunity is short. We have only 3 weeks to vote! So act now, work swiftly.
It’s always darkest before the dawn. But if we remain together, if we channel our anger into first getting the vote out, and then striking, we have the power to change the sector for the better. For as the song we sing here at RHUL so often on the picket lines truthfully declares:
In our hands is placed a power greater than their hoarded gold
Greater than the might of atoms, magnified a thousand fold
We can bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old