Message to staff for the final strike week

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An anonymous lecturer asks staff to continue to take part in UCU strikes. Read their last piece here.

Dear staff,

I'm a university staff member, and a member of UCU taking part in strike action to defend our pensions. (I'm writing on behalf of myself only, in my personal capacity - not on behalf of UCU or the university, nor in my capacity as a staff member).

This week is the last of the current strike action. The strength and solidarity so far has been heartening.

As the strike enters its final week, I commend staff who have been taking part. I appeal to those who have not yet taken part, or who have joined on some days but not others, to consider their reasons for not striking, with the full understanding that this is a difficult decision and many personal factors are at play.

Here are some reasons that bear reconsideration:

First, you are all very concerned about the effect of the strike on your students. They are missing teaching; some of their work is going unassessed; they are worried about the effect on their exams, degrees, and dissertations, and what all of that could mean post-university. They are still paying fees.

Last week, the union's negotiators 'sought and received the further support of HEC for a series of 14 days of further strikes if no acceptable agreement can be reached'. These strikes would be organised to 'maximise disruption' to the examination/assessment period in USS institutions. It's clear that UCU would take such action with great reluctance and full understanding of the gravity of the act.

Many would support that action vigorously, but nobody wants things to get to that stage. The fallout from an exam-time strike would be extremely unpleasant. The ultimate responsibility for the consequences would lie at the feet of UUK and their intransigence, but many students would feel as if their educations and careers have become collateral damage in a dispute that they are likely to feel doesn't directly involve them. Just as the current situation has eroded goodwill between university staff and our employers, strike action during exams is likely to erode vital goodwill between students and staff, even though UUK present a more valid target for students' eminently justified indignation.

The best way to avoid these consequences is to win this dispute now. If you are not striking out of concern for our students, please consider this: students will likely be affected by this week's strike even if your teaching goes ahead. However, if you strike this week, you will help to expedite an acceptable end to the dispute and forestall disruption of exams. The latter seems like the best way to help your students given the current situation.

'If being on strike presents an insurmountable hardship, my appeal is not directed at you.'

Second, strike action has financial consequences for those taking part. The long-term loss if staff fail to secure a decent pension greatly exceeds a week's, or half a month's, lost pay. However, everyone has immediate expenses, and loss of pay might make it impossible for some to continue with the strike. I understand this acutely, and if being on strike presents an insurmountable hardship, my appeal is not directed at you. For everyone else, if you strike you will likely be undertaking less hardship than your precariously employed or lower-paid colleagues, many of whom will be carrying water for everyone every day this week.

Third, you may feel that you support the strike, but that you have other duties that prevent you striking. I've heard this from academics with extensive administrative or managerial duties. Your high level of responsibility to your Department/Faculty/School means that strike action on your part could have a greater individual effect than action taken by your colleagues whose duties mainly consist of teaching/research. This effect would help greatly to end the dispute on terms acceptable to the staff. This would be to the enormous benefit of the university. The strike is for, not against, the university.

Fourth, many of you are active in research/scholarly communities extending beyond this university and country, and have obligations to those communities beyond your roles within the university. Many of you feel devoted to your discipline and that your research/scholarship are an integral part of you life, not just your job. I'm certainly not going to tell you what to do in your unpaid spare time. But remember which parts of your scholarly work are definitely also paid work for the university's benefit. If, for one week, you want to direct your intellectual energy elsewhere, it's my understanding that the Student-Staff Solidarity Group need help with teach-outs.

Please do all you can to help end the pensions dispute and get back to (fairly-compensated!) work as soon as possible. For me, that means observing the five remaining strike days.

In solidarity,
A colleague

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