An anonymous lecturer thanks students for their support in UCU strike action, and addresses comments made about the Student-Staff Solidarity Group.
I'm a University of Bristol staff member, and a member of UCU taking part in strike action to defend our pensions. (I'm writing on behalf of myself only, not the UCU or the university).
'It was already clear that support from students would be vital to the success of the action.'
On the day before the strike began, some of my students voiced - quite reasonably - frustration and uncertainty about the impending interruption to their studies. It was already clear that support from students would be vital to the success of the action, but there was fear that management would follow a strategy of pitting students against staff. I confess that I worried that a `consumer' mindset, a natural outgrowth of the marketisation of our universities, had taken hold and would dampen student support for the strike.
Though the dispute is ongoing and I'm concerned about the ultimate outcome, I'm delighted to admit that I was very wrong to worry whether you - students - would have our backs.
You've been forced to make real sacrifices in the past weeks, and there will be more. But instead of directing your indignation at us, you made a spectacular display of empathy and solidarity.
Dozens of you have stopped at our picket line for a chat, standing with us in the cold to read and sign our petitions. You showed patience in learning about the (sometimes technical) issues surrounding the pensions dispute, and understood that they are manifestations of a more general phenomenon that affects you directly. (Namely, the imposition of business logic, often unrelated to the actual goals of education and research, on universities). Solidarity grows from appreciation of shared goals and you recognise the common interests of students and staff.
'The student body has real collective power.'
Many more of you have joined the rallies and marches, and your presence has no doubt made these much more difficult for our employers to dismiss. The student body has real collective power, and my colleagues and I will not forget your willingness to apply it in this situation.
Some of you occupied the 5th floor of Senate House this week. It appears as though this action led to productive meetings with the vice-chancellor, who has now announced several important concessions (some concrete, some works in progress).
I also understand that there will be further meetings between the VC and the occupation group concerning a range of other issues, like transparency of the university management and the disparity in pay between the highest- and lowest-paid staff. From the interview with one of the occupiers that I've just watched, resolve is clearly solid.
I am inspired by the organisation and clarity of purpose displayed by the occupation, and grateful for the serious progress you're making. Outside Senate House today, while the occupiers met with the VC, one of you requested a show of support in the form of `[quite a lot] of noise'. The volume of our response indicates that my colleagues share my feelings of gratitude and admiration for the occupiers' actions.
I've also heard several of you address our rallies, mentioning the Bristol Student-Staff Solidarity group. My understanding is that this group consists of a Facebook group (requiring no special status or beliefs to join - I just have) and a series of meetings (open to anyone) centred around a shared interest in discussing issues affecting students and staff who together constitute the university community. From what I've seen so far, the group functions as a platform for all kinds of actions and responses, rather than being a monolithic entity with a specific agenda.
'[The Student-Staff Solidarity Group] seems to be a pluralistic space for interaction and discussion whose existence provides serious, tangible support for the striking workers' ongoing efforts.'
I've seen claims that this group has underlying ideological motives, or is actually hampering the UCU's efforts to secure a fair pension. Having engaged with the Bristol Student-Staff Solidarity Group, I'd like to be clear that I have not seen evidence for such claims. As a staff member on strike, I do not see that activities arising in the group inhibit our action. To the contrary, the group seems to be a pluralistic space for interaction and discussion whose existence provides serious, tangible support for the striking workers' ongoing efforts. I hope this community persists beyond the end of the current pensions dispute.
Those are merely some examples of student/staff solidarity that I've witnessed personally. Any of my striking colleagues could no doubt provide a list of their own. We're very grateful for your support and emboldened by your enthusiasm.
We all have work we want to get on with; I'd like to revert from placard to blackboard as soon as possible. However, it's clear that we need to see this dispute through. So: thank you for you understanding and action so far.
See you later, in a lecture, but first in the streets.
One of your lecturers
Featured image: Anonymous