Why I will be crossing the picket line
Lecturers strike – students have the right to go to lectures
Lecturers at Cambridge and across the country are striking over the next few days after the University and Colleges Union (UCU) voted 88.1% in favour of strike action. At Cambridge 89.4% of UCU members voted in favour of the strike, although the proportion of lecturers in support of the strike may be lower as not all are members of the UCU.
This follows a long running dispute over pensions. Universities UK (UUK) has acknowledged a deficit in the lecturers pension scheme of over £6 billion and it is generally accepted that with people living longer defined benefit pension schemes are unsustainable. UUK has presented a resolution to this deficit that has been rejected by UCU and so that are going on strike. That is their right.
But what else are UCU asking of students? The strike action also included lectures not covering the material in lectures that are missed during the strike period. That means doctors practicing medicine and lawyers with law degrees without having been taught the entire syllabus, something that to me at least is very scary indeed. It is because of this that students across the country are asking for money back from their fees as they are not getting the course and they education they have paid for and if the UCU continues to strike it could lead to the cancellation of final exams with much more serious consequences.
Dr Yaqoob, the secretary of UCU Cambridge, said at a meeting of the Cambridge University Students’ Union (CUSU) “by going to any University building they would be crossing a picket line”, adding that “by entering university premises on strike days, even if there isn’t a bunch of members there, you’re breaking the picket line”. CUSU has also urged students not to cross picket lines.
It is, however, important to remember that when you cross a picket line for a lecture it is to attend a lecture given by a lecturer who is choosing not to strike. Students’ Unions want students to show solidarity with striking lecturers but what of those lecturers who want to work?
Lecturers choosing to work on strike days, many of whom will not be members of the UCU, are working because they want to teach students and because they don’t want students to be forced to graduate without having been taught the content of the course.
UCU members have the right to vote for industrial action and they have the right to strike. They do not have the right to tell other lecturers not to work. It is wrong for Unions to tell students not to respect lecturers who want to teach, it is wrong for Unions to tell students not to take up the education they have paid for when people are keen to teach them, and it is wrong for Unions to try and prevent the learning and debate that will be going on in lectures in coming weeks in the name of solidarity.
Students are being told not to cross picket lines to attend lectures that are taking place but not to attend is a rejection of academics who just want to pass on their knowledge and ideas to a new generation. Many of my lecturers want to teach in the coming weeks and no-one has the right to tell them not to.
That’s why I will be crossing the picket line.