Why support the academic strikes?
Tab Tries: Writing topical political articles
Trump, Brexit, and The Tab BNOC list have taken a break from UK headlines: the latest issue is now officially The University Strikes. Academics across the country are swapping their papers for placards, books for banners, and Socratic dialogue for supplication. Such a polemical matter has divided the student population; it is an issue which magnifies questions about the importance and role of academic teaching in this country, reflects the strains that universities and academics are under, as well as the conflicts that come with government inference in a now-privatised university sector. As students, it is crucial that we support our striking academics, based on the principled defence of workers' rights, the value of learning, and solidarity with those who enable our future.
Response to the strike action has been (inevitably) mixed, in Cambridge as much as any other university. Whilst many students appreciate the chance to enjoy a long-awaited nap, others oppose the decision in so far as they see it as an obstacle to their learning. As a group that is inextricably linked to the strikers, apathy is not an answer. Rather, these strikes are in our interests as much as our lecturers'.
Firstly, the strike is driven by the importance of supporting reasonable workers' rights, as the strikes are principally a response against the proposed 10-40% pension reduction. As Gen X/Y millennials, we practise the art of Protesting about Zero Hours Contracts and Unpaid Internships as a competitive sport; so it is right and productive that we support similar concerns. Winning this battle over pensions in the academic teaching sector sets a precedent for good practise in other work domains; as we tread forward into the uncertain world of 2020s employment , it is crucial that we win as many of these victories as possible. Just think of the film Pride, wherein the LGBT community supports the Miners' Strike – demonstrating that groups with common interests should stick together.
However, the impetus for strike action reaches beyond the practicalities of work contracts. It is not just a conflict over legalities, but over the role of academia itself. Over the past few years, the government has been a playground bully, stealing Universities' lunch money behind the bike sheds, then forcing them to do its maths homework: marketisation, endless assessment, the impact of Brexit. In spite of these trials, British universities prevail. On the international University scene, Britain is Beyoncé; we have an almost excessive number of seriously high-performing institutions – including, of course, little old Camb – and this should be promoted and celebrated. Supporting striking academics means supporting academia, the value of learning, and the transcendent force of education.
At risk of sounding slightly paranoid, it's impossible to be overly-cautious about the unpredicable future facing our beloved institutions. Cast your mind back to the glory days of 2012, when the sun shone every day, Carly Rae Jepsen was asking us to Call Me Maybe, and tuition fees stood at a mere £3000. This picturesque scene was demolished by costs shooting to £9000 (now £9250). Nick Clegg had to publically self-flagellate (in a statement from which sprung the endlessly amusing 'Sorry' song), and a whole generation of students realised the sanctity of academia could no longer be taken for granted. We are in this together with the striking academics: we don't know what may be inflicted on our world, how the various governing groups will decide to extract money next. Solidarity with the strike action demonstrates our dedication to protecting the fairness of the whole university matrix; it will show that a mass of students are not prepared to passively accept whatever is thrown at us.
In an open letter to Vice-Chancellor Stephen Toope, CUSU emphasised this potentially negative progression, writing: 'In the context of the rapid marketization of Higher Education, we believe this is another step in a dangerous direction.'
How do you support the strikes? Well, it's the only time that you taking an extended lie-in to avoid lectures will count as an act of political defiance, so relish that opportunity while you can. More seriously, you can help, by joining or honouring picket lines, not using university facilities (e.g. libraries), or by signing the above mentioned letter to the VC.
Hopefully, the strikes will be resolved in a happy compromise, so we may skip to Sidge and West Cambridge with the delightful knowledge that our lecturer will have a fair pension. Either way, strikes in week 5 provide the perfect opportunity for a well earned-nap.