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We spoke to staff and students at the UCU strike

Strikes will last for eight days

Yesterday marked the beginning of UCU’s, the University and College Union, eight day strike.

Lecturers are taking strike action over falling pay, the gender and ethnic pay gap, precarious employment practices and unsafe workloads as they feel university employers have failed to address these issues.

Lecturers and students stood on the picket line outside Heslington Hall. The York Tab went down to speak to lecturers who were striking and students supporting the strikes to find out why the strikes are important and what students can do to show their support for their lecturers.

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York students support the strike

We spoke to Adam Kelly, an English Department lecturer, to find out why uni staff had decided to strike. Adam told The York Tab:

"I’m striking in solidarity with colleagues on casual contracts, the sector has become much more casual with poorly paid hourly contracts. I think that’s one of the most important elements of the strike for me. Also the pensions dispute, this hasn’t been resolved from our last strike a couple of years ago, that is a really important issue."

Lecturers and students are striking over the pensions dispute, the dispute that also featured in university strikes back in 2018. The original pensions scheme outlined before the last set of strikes would have lost members "£200,000 over the course of their lifetime." Staff, the board and employers "came to an outcome everyone was happy with, and that outcome has still not been implemented, so we're forced to strike again."

When asked about the importance of student support, Adam told the York Tab:

"We hugely welcome student support, we are delighted that students see this is an issue that affects them not just negatively through teaching loss which we feel very sad about, we all love to teach and hate to lose teaching time. Students can see the issues of casualisation and gender pay gaps, these are issues for every sector not just universities."

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Mabel, a Masters student studying Renaissance Literature, told the York Tab: "Its really important to support the strikes for the way out tutors are being treated and academia as well, it shouldn’t just be for people who already come from a wealthy economic background."

Also present at the picket line were the University of York Labour Club. The Tab York spoke to member John, a 3rd year Biology student, on why student involvement in the strikes is important.

"It's important students turn up in solidarity to show university management that they can't pit staff against students when their working conditions are our learning conditions. Also to support staff in their fight against overwork, underpay, casualisation, pension cuts and the gender pay gap."

John also explained that "staff pay has fallen 20% since 2010 under 9 years of the Conservatives and Lib Dem austerity. On average women are paid 16% less than mean, with similar gaps for disabled and BAME people."

The York Tab also asked how students can get involved over the next week with strike action.

"Students can support the staff by not crossing the picket lines and by adding their names to the letters of support for staff that will be handed to the VC."

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Staff and student rally outside Heslington Hall

The York Tab spoke to one of the student involvement organisers, Natalie, a 3rd year English Student. Natalie supports the strike because she wanted to "stand in solidarity with staff against cuts to their pensions and pay, the casual nature of contracts and the precariousness of their jobs. As so many people have said, staff working conditions are students learning conditions."

"Our lecturers and academic staff don't want to go on strike, this is the last resort. We need to direct our anger not towards our lecturers but towards senior management who have forced staff into this position. Senior management at the University of York need to call for UUK to agree to negotiations and should support the strikers in any way they can."

When asked why it is important for students to be involved, Natalie said "when academic staff and students are united, universities are forced to listen and take action."

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Picket line locations across campus

If you want to get involved in the strikes, picket lines start at 8am until 10am at various locations. There is a meeting outside Heslington Hall at 10:30 every day for the next six days. Teach-outs are also happening in Heslington Village Hall which students are encouraged to attend.

York Students Support Staff have started a petition. The petition "University of York – pay your staff" is to encourage the university officials to engage with York UCU to "discuss the issues outlined in their official statement: the plummeting of real pay, the rise of casual contracts, a culture of overwork and the gender wage gap."

You can join the York Students Support Staff group here, and can sign the petition here.