During Week 11, University of St Andrews staff who are members of the University and College Union will be striking for eight working days. There are two legal disputes at the heart of this industrial action which is taking place across 43 universities in the UK, one regarding pay and the other regarding working conditions. Talk of strikes began in late October, and the university sent an email outlining their position on the strikes on November 6th. Despite this notice, it goes without saying that students have had weeks to educate themselves about the strikes and how they will personally be affected and take appropriate action. It is true that these strikes may be inconvenient. They inevitably result in the groans of students, complaining of their lost lectures or office hours, the late marking or unanswered emails. Deadlines are in full swing, exams are right around the corner. But surely the entire point of a strike is disruption!
Members of staff would not be striking if they did not need to. Strikes are a last resort. They have only occurred because staff of universities across the UK have continually been ignored in negotiations of issues that directly affect their long-term financial stability. As many universities rely heavily on voluntary work, other ways university staff are taking industrial action is by only working to contract. This means not providing any more services or work hours than stated in their employment contracts or agreements.
This is why I find it extremely selfish when fellow students say they do not support the strikes because they take away from their ability to get an education. While it is understandable that we do not want to waste our money, it should be equally understandable that staff want to make enough money to support themselves and their families. After all, universities can only survive when both the staff and the students are happy. Instead of complaining that your money is getting wasted by canceled lectures you should question where your tuition is going now that these strikes are recurring. Hint: it’s probably not to striking lecturers. Indeed, in 2018, St Andrews striking staff were threatened to be penalised for not making up for lectures canceled during the strikes, according to the Guardian. These previous actions by the University of St Andrews make this strike all the more important for the university to redeem itself. It should also encourage students and non-UCU colleagues to advocate in support of the right of UCU members to strike for fair pay, pensions, and working conditions. Think about where your money ought to go. The more students who stand in solidarity with their lecturers the more this forces the university and the government to understand that change is needed.
There will be picket lines across campus in Week 11. Don’t cross them. Stand with your lecturers, not those who exploit them. Picket lines are as symbolic as they are physical, and strikes and unions are fundamental rights of modern democracy. It is our turn to raise our voices against employers who are not listening to their employee’s needs, and the broken system we are all a part of.