Su Aydin examines the importance of student support through the UCU strikes, especially after the pandemic.
Does wisdom really come with age? If that’s the case, I think a 570-year-old university would have the wisdom to treat its staff fairly enough so that they don’t have to strike for basic workers rights. From 1-3 December, the University of Glasgow joined 58 universities around the UK in the strikes organised by the UCU (University and College Union) over unequal pay, cuts to pensions and unfair working conditions. The picket line was not only filled with the staff but also with students, activists and even a samba band, gathered together to show solidarity.
With an income of £685 million, I simply can’t believe that the disputes over unequal pay can be related to how much money the University has. The University of Glasgow can be a “world changer” by having previously invested £3.1m in arms companies that have surely made their impact, but it can’t offer equal pay and fair working conditions to its staff? It just doesn’t make sense to me. Last year the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Glasgow was reported to have a salary of £298,000 and received a £10,000 pay rise, all while the University staff wages were not kept at the same pace as inflation rates. Even though the pandemic caused disruptions in teaching and put pressure on the University staff, this didn’t impact the University’s performance in its rankings at all. On the contrary, the University of Glasgow has risen six places in Times Higher Education’s World University Rankings and was ranked 11th in The Guardian’s UK University Rankings. Casualisation of the workforce has caused University staff to be treated as expendable by the management. It is only fair for the University to meet UCU’s demands.
"Casualisation of the workforce has caused University staff to be treated as expendable by the management..."
Personally, I am saddened by the unsustainable working conditions that the university staff are facing, which is why I joined them on the picket lines. Because of the pandemic, my only in-person classes have been my tutorials. I don’t want to go all Dead Poets Society on you, but my tutorials have been one of the most inspiring and exciting parts of my University experience, and I owe it to my tutors that have made it enjoyable. It is frustrating to know that the people who have made such an impact on me are working under these conditions with intense workloads and unequal pay.
"It is frustrating to know that the people who have made such an impact on me are working under these conditions..."
As we leave the semester one exam season behind us, I acknowledge that the strikes might not have been ideal for us students. However, I can’t help but think that these strikes are the only way to make employers meet UCU’s demands. Timing is critical and I believe the dates of the strikes were provocative enough to raise the Universities’ attention. In addition, three days of strikes is a small price to pay for a systematic issue that needs to change.
We should look at the bigger picture - the problems that UCU highlights are deeply rooted in every sector. UCU’s demands include closing the race pay gap and gender pay gap, inflation-matching salaries, proper contracts, and fair pensions. These demands are not academia-specific and the lack of them is apparent in every sector. We, as students, are more than likely to struggle when we enter the workforce because of the absence of these demands.
University is supposed to be a place where we learn and have experiences, which is why we should support these strikes and see them as an opportunity to learn how to stand up for ourselves. We should show solidarity for the issues that are happening under our roof before we take on the world as “world changers''. Although the strikes have ended, the UCU’s demands are yet to be met, which is why I invite you to join the picket lines in any future strikes and stand in solidarity with the University staff.
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