A Conversation with the UCU: The When, Why and What For of Industrial Action 

8 mins read

UCU Stirling has announced 15 further days of industrial action following failed negotiations to improve lecturer’s pay. Striking lecturers are calling for their wages to be adjusted for inflation, and to fairly reflect the amount of work they do. They will take place from Monday 11th September-Friday 29th September. Students are advised to attend classes as normal, and get in touch with university management.

We’ve all seen the bulletin, of course. But how deep does it all go?

A UCU Stirling spokesperson tells Brig about what the strikes are really all about, and what students can do in support.

Image Credit: UCU Stirling

Can you tell me about the reasons why you’re striking?

It’s really important to recognize that the majority of people, I mean, I can speak for myself and my colleagues as well are here, because we love this job. We’re not here because we’ve got a vendetta with the management.

We’re here because we care about the future of this sector and we really want it to be a sustainable career, for young people, for people who are maybe doing an undergraduate degree now and think that might be something they want to go into, to protect the diversity of the sector. It needs to be a viable career. And at the moment, there are roadblocks in the way that stop it from being a viable career. And one of the biggest ones is pay.

Our pay hasn’t risen in line with inflation since 2009. So in real terms we’ve had a 20-ish percent pay cut and there are a huge amount of lecturers who are really struggling, you know, struggling to pay bills. We are not a bunch of overpaid, work-shy people. A lot of people are really struggling.

Image Credit: UCU Stirling

Can you tell me more about this pay cut? What does it involve, how does it actually affect you?

One of the main reasons that we’re out here is to do with casualization. Over 60 percent of the workers are on casualized contracts, which means they’re employed for a fixed period of time. Usually not full-time. So those workers don’t know if, come the end of the semester, they’re going to have a job. They can’t make plans for the future. They can’t get mortgages. They can’t plan to have families. So the sector is propped up by people on these contracts and they are largely, you know, early career researchers or people looking to get in and make a difference. It’s not a lack of enthusiasm.

Universities and employers associations don’t want to give full-time contracts out to people to do research. They just want teaching to go down. The reason we’re here today, and the reason that we as a branch are on strike for the next two weeks, is to protest the deductions from the senior management team for those members of our branch who participated in the marketing and assessment boycott. 

Image Credit: UCU Stirling

What can you say about the marking boycott? 

So, the way our work for most of us is divided up, if you like, is we get something called a workload allocation model, and different tasks get different amounts of hours assigned to them. Marking typically represents a very small channel of what we have to do as lecturers. We don’t just teach. We research, we do admin. We build the front end of the canvas pages. We do our own research. We do reading, we’re expected to publish (most of us). Some of us are practice based. So some of us, you know, create artworks, all of that kind of stuff. Marking really is a very small percent of what we do. 

So, a deduction of 50 percent of your wages, that’s incredibly disproportionate?

Exactly. You know, when we were fulfilling every other part. We have colleagues who have spoken at conferences, who have published research papers, published chapters, done all of this on a 50 percent wage sometimes because they boycotted one or two dissertations. Um, so the reason we’re here today is to protest what we see as disproportionate and vindictive deductions to our wages.

Image Credit: UCU Stirling

Absolutely, and, um, what advice can you give? What can you say to students who don’t understand what’s happening here?

Look. I sympathise with students. You know, everybody, most of the people on this picket have been students for a really long time as well, you know, we’ve done two or three degrees to get these jobs. And I understand how irritating it is to have classes cancelled. And we also completely understand that students are also dealing with a cost of living crisis, but we have tried several times to have these strikes. We don’t just say we’re going on strike, and not open a channel of negotiations. There was normally a channel of negotiation open between ourselves and the management, they are informed. That strikes will take place and, you know, more often than not they don’t budge and we end up out here. Academics are usually really passionate people who love what they do. You know on my part teaching and researching and being with students is a privilege. It is the best thing about this job and not getting to do that in the first three weeks and not getting to share is really heartbreaking. 

This is a last resort for us but for a lot of us we feel like we don’t have a choice. 

Image Credit: UCU Stirling

And what would you say to encourage students to get involved, any solidarity, they can express?

There’s lots of different ways. I mean, what I would say is, you know, attend classes as normal, unless you’re told otherwise. You can always join us on pickets. You guys have seen this normally quite friendly atmosphere. And pickets. It’s usually some cute dogs going around. 

Absolutely! I like going to pickets. A lot of people look at me like I’ve grown a second head when I say that. But I do.

That’s great to hear! It’s a great way to show solidarity, and it really means a lot.

Featured Image Credit: Niamh Brook

+ posts

1 Comment

%d bloggers like this: