The Sussex picket line is cutting off the entire campus – what gives them the right?
Campus is more than a lecturer’s workplace
As students, we should all absolutely support our lecturers' right to strike. Over the last decade, salaries have fallen whilst tuition fees have sky-rocketed and now our lecturers' pensions are proposed to be cut by £10,000 a year. No one should have to quietly accept unjust working conditions and payment changes, especially our hard working academics who are almost always on hand to help us in any capacity we may need.
However, just as lecturers have the right to strike, students and other people on campus have the right to go about their day to day life without being intimidated or heckled. As a campus university, Sussex is so much more than a place where UCU members work – it is where people's homes, jobs and healthcare are located, and by picketing at the entrance to our campus, people are having to face protestors to do something as simple as go home.
Picketing and disruption are, of course, two key components of a strike – without them there would be no pressure to reform, but picketers blocking public transport from coming on to campus need to remember that people need to be on campus for more than one reason. As a campus uni, the picket line does not have the same effect as it would at a city university. Sussex's campus is not just an educational institution, so why does the picket have to block main entrance rather than the individual academic buildings? If University of Brighton lecturers were striking and had a picket line at the entrance to Mithras House, the goal of blocking off the workplace would be the main acheivement for that line. They would not be stopping first years from going home, patients from accessing the doctor or mental health service, or SU employees trying to get into work.
In an email forwarded to students in the school of Global Studies, a student, who needs counselling following a sexual assault, expressed her concern that she would need to cross the picket line in order to access the help that she needs. Why should a person who needs mental health care have to be accused and then subsequently forced to justify themselves to a mob of strangers? Students with certain mental health problems could be deterred from attending their sessions at all due to the prospect of crossing the picket line.
Moreover, the picket lines and the subsequent changes to public transport have huge implications on disabled students. What if a student with accessibility needs lives in Northfield and is having to walk to their flat from Falmer Station?
It's fair to say that most students understand and respect why their lecturers are striking, but this is by no means to say our learning and education should come to a halt. A sign taped to a lampost bares the warning: 'Going to the library is crossing the picket line'. Students are already missing out on hundreds of pounds of their tuition fees due to cancelled lectures so why should we miss out more on the services that we are already paying for?
Of course, anyone can cross the picket line, it's not a physical barrier to the university services, but the location of the Sussex picket line is disruptive to more than just the educational purpose of campus. Yes, we should be angry that our hard-working lecturers are being treated unfairly, but it is not the jobs of picketing students to express that anger upon other students who have nothing to do with the strikes, the UCU or the UUK. Supporting striking lecturers should not mean harrassing, questioning and intimidating students who have every right to access the services on campus.
So picketers, take your signs and move along. Email the university, email Adam Tickell, do the things your lecturers have told you to do to support the strikes. It is one thing to picket to support a distruption in education, it is completely another to cause disruption to students in lectures with non-striking lecturers and intimidate others while they trying to access vital campus services. Fighting alongside our lecturers is noble, but your picket line stands in front of people's homes, jobs and health, and that is unacceptable.