Strikes? Give me a break
After one too many days off, SEB DAY is tired of university staff striking.
Last Thursday, members of the university went on strike in response to a proposed 1% increase to employees’ pay, which protestors claim represents a real-terms pay cut of 13% from 2009. At the same time, according to UCU (the university and colleges union), while staff wages have dropped, vice-chancellors’ pay has increased by 5.1% from last year. So to show everyone just how unamused they are, swathes of academics, as well as students, stood behind picket lines across the university with the intention of lobbing a placard at the first eager learner to cross the line. But just how effective is this tactic?
Historically, strikes have brought much success to British workers, giving us paid holidays, sick leave and the 8-hour day. But these successes originate from strikes in heavy industry; not educational institutions. When resorting to industrial action (i.e a strike), the idea is for employees to show unity in their rage-fuelled cause by, as a single force, disrupting output and withdrawing manual labour. In heavy industry, if the workers don’t work, nothing gets made. If nothing gets made, the company makes no money. But at a university, if the workers don’t work then it’s not just the institution that’s affected – the students get to lose out too. The result is that both sides end up blaming the other for disrupting students’ learning, while simultaneously claiming that their actions were inevitable. It’s like a hostage situation where the students have a knife to their throat, and both sides are wielding the knife.
Lacing lecture halls with picket lines affects students more than it does the university officials. And after having paid so much money, and potentially having travelled up to half an hour for that education, students have a right to be peeved. It could be, and certainly is argued, that these are small costs for the future benefit of the university, but is it necessary? Will those making the big decisions really care if their students miss a handful of lectures? If not, is there anything to be gained from depriving those students of their education?
It’s true that the picket lines bring attention to the issues raised, but it’s not as if forcefully waving sheets of card in others’ faces is the only way to go about it. One alternative would be for lecturers to spend the first five minutes of a lecture explaining what the problem is, and why they’re upset. Or groups of protestors could stand outside the lecture halls and grab students’ attention without plastering their faces in crudely drawn placards.
I’m not disapproving of the strike. In fact I whole-heartedly support industrial action when employees aren’t even paid the living wage; especially when the highest earners are busy wiping their asses with petitions, legal tender and small innocent animals (probably, ish). But, ultimately, the people on top don’t care whether or not students go to lectures, so the only people harmed here are the students themselves. Is it not possible to refuse to contribute to research while still providing an education?