Article by Tabatha O'Brien Butcher, EAS MA student, to be published in Mancunion next week
‘Strike action will not divide, students and lecturers stand side by side!’
The University and College Union (UCU) have voted to take strike action over pensions, pay and job security in the week beginning 21st March. In this same week we will see the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, present his austerity plans on Budget Day, along with a Trade Union Congress (TUC) organised national demonstration, where as many as 1 million people will march in London on Saturday 26th March to oppose the cuts—a demonstration that is set to be the most important protest since the anti war march in 2003.
Two days before this national protest however, our own university lecturers, academic staff, and senior administrators at the University of Manchester, will be staging a work stoppage—otherwise known as a strike—with an overwhelming 69.94% of our academic staff voting for strike action in the UCU ballot. Over 60 universities—mostly pre-1992 institutions which includes the entire Russell group—have voted for strike action allowing for a national wave of protest to be realised.
These strikes will stand against the destructive changes to the Universities Superannuation pension Scheme (USS) and therefore defend each lecturer’s rights to a fair and well-earned pension, protest against attacks on pay whereby the current pay offer is a mere 0.4%, despite the rate of inflation being 5% and the knowledge that Vice Chancellors awarded themselves up to 20% pay rises last year, and from job cuts which could lead to an estimated 40,000 redundancies in the university sector. Not only will these measures have a detrimental effect on our academic staff at the University of Manchester, but they will contribute to the downgrading of the role of education workers in society as part of the wider attack on education. The strikes, therefore, are to be seen as part of the wider struggle and will ultimately show solidarity with the student movement against the cuts, along with the constantly accumulating dissent of wider society with the drastic austerity measures enacted by our government. Dr. David Alderson, Lecturer of English at the University of Manchester, reiterates this solidarity by stating that: ‘Lecturers are not simply striking against worsening pay and conditions, but effectively against a co-ordinated attack on the public sector and the life we have in common. It is the same struggle as students are waging against fees, and most of us have been involved in supporting that campaign.'
So let’s support our lecturers!
The University of Manchester lecturers’ strikes will occur on the 22nd March, and again on the 24th when the steady wave of regional strikes will transform into a sea of mass discontent on this national day of action. Student support for these strikes can make a lot of difference to the lecturers’ who are simply protesting for their rights. You can support your lecturers, and other academic staff, in numerous ways: strike alongside them by walking out of your lectures, show your solidarity at the real or imagined picket lines, send emails of encouragement, find alternative educational spaces and environments in which student-led lessons can be conducted, organise teach-ins at Roscoe Occupation, or teach-outs to publicise and increase the visibility of the strikes.
If you are still undecided as to whether you will personally be supporting the strikes, or if you are perhaps just worrying about the prospect of missing your seminars, lectures or personal tutor time on these days, here are a few things to think about:
• Lecturers care about their students and education as a whole— most will ensure that disruption is minimised and that appointments and lessons are rescheduled.
• Do you want to support the inspiring academics who have taught you, and the essential administration staff that make your university experience go smoothly in their fight for fair pay, a dignified and well earned retirement, and job safety?
• If you are thinking of going into academia yourself, or any work in the university sector, there are many reasons why the lecturers’ strike benefits you—not only does the change in the USS pension scheme mean that younger and new staff cannot access the fairer final salary pension scheme, but the fight against job cuts, the delegitimization of the arts and social sciences and the removal, or drastic cutting of the teaching budget to many courses, will severely affect job opportunities in higher education. They are fighting for the rights of young academics too!
• What’s missing out on a few lectures compared to supporting the general struggle against the dismantling of our education system? The tripling of university tuition fees to up to £9,000 will ensure that lots of individuals from disadvantaged or underprivileged backgrounds will never even experience a day of university education. As Postgraduate student and treasurer for Manchester Against Fees and Cuts, Sarah Kerton, puts it: ‘The battle we are facing now is so much more than one module we are in the middle of, or our end of semester grade—it’s about the future of a educational system that we have benefited from, but which our brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews may never get a chance to. We must stand united.’
• Let’s face it, we’ve all missed seminars or lecturers before, this time it’s for a good cause!
However you decide to support your lecturers’ during the UCU strike at the University of Manchester, your support will help to solidify the increasing camaraderie between students and lecturers. Let’s build on the successes of the student movement thus far, and ensure cohesion in our fight to save education. ‘El pueblo, unido, jamas sera vencido’—or, let’s unite and support our lecturers who are going on strike!