‘We don’t like to strike’: We went to the picket lines to ask lecturers about the strikes

‘We need to make it untenable for them to be so unethical’

On a very wet and cold Monday morning, there seemed to be a fairly decent turn out to the picket lines for the first day of strikes with staff and students alike. We spoke to staff as they explained why they chose to strike this term and how students can best support them.

‘We don’t like to strike; we are forced to do it when we are not listened to’

Lecturers spoke about their choices to strike and how their pensions have been affected in recent years.

One lecturer told us about the changes that have been seen in how they are treated as staff, speaking about “the unmanageable workloads that staff are under” and the “rampant casualisation in the sector and the equality pay gap is widening every year despite legislation”. 

They continued to explain that “university management [which] has been giving [us] below-inflation pay rises over the last ten years, and our pay has declined by more than 20 per cent”.

‘We have been forced to be out here by irresponsible managers’

Another academic staff member shared their opinions about the reasons behind the strikes this morning. They said: “You think we want to lose pay, stand in the rain, and lose learning and lose the job we have chosen to do? That is not why we’re out here. We’re out here because we have been forced to be out here by irresponsible managers.” 

They also spoke about the personal struggle they face when debating whether or not to strike, as they genuinely enjoy their jobs. One lecturer told us: “I’m really enjoying teaching the modules that I’m teaching and the workshops that I’m doing. I haven’t done it for two years because of Covid, so it’s a shock.”

‘Our working conditions are your learning conditions’

Almost all of the staff we spoke to felt under considerable conflict about its pressure and impact on students.

One said: “I feel a significant amount of tension personally, particularly when I think about the wellbeing of my students and the potential sort of all the learning that they can be doing.” They reiterated that “we do invite students to come out and support us because we are, in a way, the university. Without us, and of course the students and the interactions between the students and us, there is no university.”

Staff acknowledged the benefit that the improvements for them would also have on students, they said: “We deeply regret any impact it has on students, but the support we have got from students has been fantastic, and from the general public, you can see on the picket line lots of students supporting the strikes. The students understand that what the lecturers and the staff are going through directly impacts them. If staff are not happy if staff are working under terrible conditions, how can we teach in a good way?”

‘We need you here for us as well’

For those academic staff on strike, support from students is so important to them.

One lecturer said: “Your lecturers are pretty much always there for you…. And now that we need our students, we need you here for us as well”.

Students are urged to think critically about the strike action and “reject the way the university [and], and indeed probably the government, want you to react”. One lecturer further encouraged those studying at Lancaster to question why they are pushed to think about how it will affect their short term, stating: “If [the university] were really worried about the effect on students, why aren’t they accepting the proposal”.

‘Universities are places of education, not businesses’

Students are encouraged to “email the Vice-Chancellor, ask for their money back for any lectures that have been cancelled”, as this is what students’ tuition fees are paying for.

We spoke to a lecturer about the fact that they are not paid while striking, they said: “Every year they tell us that it goes into hardship funds… And then we ask how do we apply, how do students apply for hardship funds, where is the money, can you account for it? They can never find a penny.” 

‘Students are the next generation of workers’

When asked what we can do as students to help support this, one lecturer encouraged coming to visit the picket lines. They said: “I think coming to the picket line is really important because it has a body, it shows people.”

The strikers also suggested that making life a “bit more difficult for managers” is just as important, if not more.

They said: “You have a HOD (head of department), email them. Student rep, email them. VC, email them. Student NUS, email them.” 

Striking staff also listed ways in which students can show their support; they said: “Students can support the picket line; they can visit the picket line; they can write to the vice-chancellor; they can write to the local MP”.

A Lancaster University spokesperson said: “A small number of staff at Lancaster University are participating in this week’s national industrial action which sees 68 UK universities take part in strike action.

“The action follows two separate national ballots in November 2021 – one over the recent USS pension valuation, and one over sector pay and working conditions – in which UCU members voted in favour of taking strike action across a number of universities.

“Staff across the University are taking steps to try to ensure there is as little disruption as possible for students during this time. As not all staff are members of the staff union the impact of the strike will be varied across different parts of the University. Where disruption has been unavoidable we are deeply sorry.

“Departments are notifying students how they can obtain help and advice during the industrial action and those students with concerns specific to their programme should approach a member of department such as their Programme Director or Supervisor.”

To keep up to date with the strikes taking place in Lancaster over the coming weeks, visit Lancaster University’s UCU blog for regular updates.

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