An introductory guide to the UCU Strikes

The Tab explains everything you need to know about the ongoing strikes

Two weeks ago the Cambridge University UCU branch voted in favour of strikes and it has since been announced that the strikes will take place from the 1st- 3rd of December. This short guide will take you through everything else you need to know.

How do these strikes impact students?

In an email sent out on the 17th of November, Cambridge University Senior Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education, Professor Graham Virgo, explained what the strikes may mean for student life in Cambridge. He asked that students “assume that (your)  lectures, seminars, laboratory work and doctoral supervisions and vivas” will take place as normal unless they receive information saying otherwise from their faculties. 

All college work, including supervisions, will remain functional through the strikes. Additionally, libraries and the student service centres will also remain operational.

The email also outlined that the University of Cambridge has also set up a website with information on industrial action that will go live on Friday, 19 November.

Who’s striking?

The University and College Union (UCU) has had 58 branches approve strikes – including the Cambridge UCU. UCU members include lecturers, academics, librarians, postgraduate teaching assistants or anyone that does paid teaching (support) work for the university. The UCU is the main organising body for the current strikes.

Why are they striking?

The UCU is campaigning against: pension cuts, inequality in pay and casualization (the running of a workforce through short-term casual contracts rather than permanent contracts).

They are campaigning for: pay reflective of working hours and better working conditions.

The Cambridge UCU’s Justice4CollegeSupervisors campaign has called the casualization situation “precarious” and cited a 2017-18 study that outlined nearly 45% of Cambridge’s undergraduate supervisors were casualized.

In September, the University Superannuation Scheme (USS) announced proposals detailing cuts of up to 35% on guaranteed pension benefits for academics and changes to how pension investment schemes are structured. The strikes are in part a response to these proposals, which can be read here.

The UCU is striking on two fronts, against the University and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) and Universities UK (UUK). Cambridge is represented by both of these organizations. Details of how these two organizations are involved in representing employers can be found in this Tab article.

When and till when are they striking?

Strikes will begin on the 1st of December and will go on till the 3rd of December this term. Further action is likely to be announced next term, as the UCU website claims this is just the “start of sustained disruption” in the higher education sphere if employers fail to negotiate.

Who supports the strikes?

On a student-body level, Cambridge Defend Education (CDE) and the Cambridge Student Union (SU) have been supporting the strikes. In October, the Student Union voted in favour of supporting industrial action. Information regarding student participation in/solidarity with the strikes can be found on the SU’s website. 

The National Union of Students has also announced their support, most recently with an online survey that reveals 73% of students nationally support the strikes.

How has the university responded?

Emails were sent to students on the 17th of November from both Professor Stephen J Toope, Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge, and Professor Graham Virgo, Senior Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education) of Cambridge in relation to the announcement of strike dates for Michaelmas terms. This Tab article provides more details on the university’s response so far, citing university leadership’s “concern” for the impact strikes will have on student education.

This guide will be updated as more information follows. 

Feature Image Credits: Simarchy via the Creative Commons License

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