This Halloween, 31st October 2013, you may have seen university lecturers and employees up and down the country, strike for better pay.
Since 2008, their pay has been cut by an astonishing 13%. Attempts have been made to avoid the strike, including final hour talks between University and College Employers Association (UCEA) and the unions. Ultimately unsuccessful, with UCEA offering an embarrassing 1% pay rise, strikes shall go ahead. This shall be the first pay related strike since 2006.
As a student, I appreciate the anger and frustration my lecturers must feel. They do an incredible job, and repeatedly go above and beyond their required line of work to support us. Even today, the day of the strike, my lecturer has agreed to meet me to offer advice on an essay plan. They should be rewarded for their hard work, not punished by increasingly harmful pay cuts. I can further appreciate why they are striking when I look to the growing gap in wages in the higher education industry. As Simon Dunn, from Unison Wales stated “the pay gap between the highest and lowest paid within HE has reached a ratio of 1 to 19 and is still rising.”
…at University College London, life pretty much continues as normal…
As students, we have great solidarity with our lecturers and university support staff, but I can’t help questioning what impact it will have. Sally Hunt, UCU general secretary claims there will be “massive disruption across UK universities” since Unison and Unite have also joined them in the strike. Whilst I can’t speak for other universities, at University College London, life pretty much continues as normal. Our biggest struggle is getting into the university, as some teachers have formed a picket line by some of the entrances. But other than that, it could be any other day at college. My friends and I still have all of our scheduled lectures, and for the very few that don’t, they are just rescheduled for after reading week. So as students, thankfully we are not hugely impacted upon by the strike.
But then really neither is the university as a whole. Lecturers at UCL will get a day’s pay docked if they chose to go on strike. Strikes are most effective when they damage the employer, but UCL is financially benefitting from one day less they need to pay. So what are my lecturers gaining? I understand the principles behind it and the media attention the strikes will draw; but ultimately the strike means one day less of pay and a greater workload compensating for a missed day of teaching. Who knows, perhaps this will shake UCEA into granting better pay packages, but as an onlooker, I can’t help but remain sceptical.