A guide to the 2022 UCU strikes in Cambridge

The student guide to the Lent strikes and what you can do to help


The UCU strikes that took place last December brought about decisive moments for students and staff alike. With a lack of education combined with faculty pressure, many of us felt caught between a rock and a hard place. But what Cambridge Defend Education (CDE) wants you to know is that, in reality, these are one and the same.

By respecting the strikes, you’re respecting your educators and indeed your education.

Why are the strikes occurring?

Strikes have a long history of success in catalysing change in response to inadequate pensions, pay and working conditions. The UCU is demanding that employers revoke the 35% cuts to the pensions, provide employees with a £2.5k pay increase, and take action to tackle unreasonably heavy workloads, pay inequality & insecure contracts throughout the education sector.

The gender pay gap in UK universities also currently sits at 15%, the disability pay gap at 9% and the race pay gap at 17% – making the higher education sector one of the most troubled in terms of inequality.

And these are more than just numbers. The effects of this continued pressure and injustice have contributed to a mental health crisis among staff and that should no longer be written off as a symptom of working in higher education. Striking is a clear, effective way to stand in solidarity against injustice – both social and financial.

What can you do to help?

There are simple actions you can take to protect your education and those who provide it that make a big difference. Start with staying in bed on strike days! Swap your 9 am lecture for a UCU (University and College Union) video on the strikes or your morning scroll through TikTok for a browse of the Cambridge UCU Twitter or the CDE Instagram.

The main point of the strikes is creating disruption to force the University to respond to the UCU’s demands, so anything you can do prevent normal University teaching on strike days is truly invaluable. It’s also extremely important to educate your friends and classmates about your choices and why they should follow suite. This is a direct force for good in the battle for a better working environment for your educators.

How do I deal with faculty pressure?

One of the most detrimental acts on a strike day is the crossing of a picket line. A single step has powerful implications for those working hard to protect the rights of themselves and their colleagues.

For many of us, the seemingly-paradoxical choice of refusing our education to protect our education may feel uncomfortable – particularly with the added pressure from those opposed to the strikes.

However, on occasions such as these, it is important to understand that you are not acting alone. Talking to your peers and organising group absences or dropping striking staff an email to express solidarity and ask what you can do is a huge step forward in understanding the profound consequences of your own choices. In battles against injustice and inequity, forming community bonds is essential to educate yourself on your choices and remind yourself that they are the right ones, no matter how difficult they may seem.

How do I get involved?

For those of you wanting to take a more active role in the strikes, there is always the option to come down to a rally, do breakfast runs, or get in touch with the CDE through their social media and even in person. They also have college reps, who are always happy to answer any questions you may have.

So, as we look ahead to the approaching February Strikes, it’s important to reflect on our actions and responses to those of last year and ask how we can do better. It’s easy to remove ourselves from the numbers and statistics, using our busy lives and the worth placed on our education as excuses for indifference, however, indifference only works up to a point. Better teaching conditions result in better teaching.

This is the only remedy for the mental health epidemic facing our educators. Whether you were on the picket lines or in the classroom in December, these coming weeks are a key opportunity to demonstrate your appreciation in broader terms than buying them a coffee mug.

A University spokesperson expressed that “the University deeply regrets the impact that industrial action will have on our students’ education – particularly given the challenges that so many have faced during the past two years.

 They add that the University remains committed to working with its unions, and continues with Cambridge UCU to press for the redesign of the Universities Superannuation Scheme with a view to achieving better outcomes for members and putting the scheme on a more sustainable footing.”

More information on the upcoming strikes can be found here.

Statistics sourced from ucu.org.uk

Feature Image Credit: Vedika Mandapati