Why We Should Support the UCU Strike

For the other side of the story, read Jasmine Humphrey’s description of the dangers of the strike

It’s often hard to properly empathise with the position of the strikers when you have been personally inconvenienced by their actions. I still remember the anger with which my friend and I greeted the news that, due to industrial action on the part of French railway workers, we would arrive at our destination in Germany several days late. Many of us studying here at St Andrews — especially those of us who must pay for our education — will justifiably be upset that our lectures and tutorials will be cancelled, our essays and assignments left ungraded, and our lecturers and tutors unresponsive.

It’s also easy to criticise those planning to take action because of the nature of their profession. We tend not to think of academics in the same vein as we do miners or railway workers; when the latter strike, the worst that happens is large inanimate machines go untended. Academics, however, are thought to be performing a public service for the community as a whole, educating the next generation of citizens so that society can prosper; it seems almost grubby for that noble endeavour to be disrupted by something so vulgar and mundane as a dispute over pensions.
Photo: UCU Edinburgh
But, for better or worse, the modern university is, at heart, a business like any other. There are employers (the university itself), employees (the lecturers and other staff), and customers (students like you and me). And just like any other business, when the employees are so blatantly and callously injured – in this case, lecturers found out overnight that half of their pensions had effectively been wiped out by Universities UK – and there is little to be achieved by individual acts of defiance, there seems little alternative but to take action as a collective group.

Some of the more right-leaning students here at St Andrews will no doubt be put off by the prospect of supporting a labour union in words or in deed, and even more so by taking the same side as the Socialist Society. But if you believe in the free market and in the right of every person to decide the price at which they are willing to sell their labour, surely you see that the lecturers would only be acting in their own rational self-interest – independent of any ideological convictions or  the idea of someone “deserving” a certain pay – by striking. In the face of the loss of over two hundred thousand pounds total per lecturer, and with the other side of the negotiating table being left empty, it would be borderline insanity for them not to take drastic measures.

Photo: Geograph
 Many students will also be irritated or outraged by the fact that many lecturers will not be notifying us if they decide to go on strike. Some of us will turn up to lectures and tutorials only to find that there is nobody teaching them. But it stands to reason that a strike, or any sort of industrial action, is only effective if it achieves its goal of causing a disruption. If teachers notified students or the University ahead of time, there would be ample opportunity for their employers to replace or substitute them, severely undermining the effectiveness of the strike.

We as students (and therefore as consumers and customers of the University) should also act in our own rational self-interest. We have rights, too, and we should demand them loudly and with conviction: if we lose valuable term-time to the negligence of organisations which refuse to come to the negotiating table, we deserve some sort of compensation from the University.

In the meanwhile the University and College Union, which is organising the strike, recommends students support their lecturers by not showing up to classes on the days when industrial action is planned.

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