When I first received an email for the University explaining that there were plans for industrial action by the University and College Union (UCU) I naively thought that there was no way Universities UK (UUK) would allow the strikes to continue for the proposed 14 days; that the UUK would have to take back their decision to axe pensions. However, as we have seen, the strike action continued to the full proposed outcome and the dispute remains on.
I prepared myself to miss just one lecture during the first week of strike action and carried on my week as normal, doing work at the library and collecting data for my masters dissertation. Heading to the library on the second day of strikes I bumped into a member of staff I knew, who was at a picket line with fellow colleagues. I stopped to chat and learn more about the strikes. It was only then that realised the real implications that the pension cuts would be having to individuals, families, diversity, and Higher Education. I asked whether they would be able to write a blog for students to understand why the strikes were happening for PsychLiverpool (you can read that here). This was a crucial moment for me during the strike action. It was the first time I realised how little solidarity staff and students had thanks to the marketisation of Higher Education, meaning that our interactions are limited to a purely work-only-based-interactional nature (find out more here).
The next week, again, I was lucky enough to only be missing one lecture and I could carry on data collecting for my dissertation. I was also proud this week to see many students starting to join the lecturers on picket lines and occupying one of the many top floor VC meeting rooms. This was also the first week I faced my first conflict with the strikes.
I was collecting data in the Eleanor Rathbone Building when the building was “occupied” by students protesting (I have continued to data collect for my dissertation throughout the strike period and yes, I have felt awful each time I crossed the picket line breaking my solidarity a little each time). It was not necessarily the “occupation” that led to my frustration, it was the way that the University handled the situation. The panicked response to get security to the building led to a lot of confusion and disruption. I had to prove that I was data collecting just to get back into the building, which is hard to do when you only left to get lunch and all of your belongings are on the other side of the doors. Although this seems like a minor altercation, it really showed an important message – how the University did not expect such solidarity.
During the following weeks, I kept stopping at picket lines to talk to both staff and students. Learning others’ perspectives only increased my feelings of solidarity towards the strike action. The sense of community from the solidarity has been fulfilling and a valuable experience. I encourage others stop and talk, ask questions, voice your concerns (not aggressively) and you will see that lecturers are people with lives outside of answering emails, marking work, and doing research. I have come to the conclusion that it is not striking staff and/or those on picket lines that you should be frustrated at, it is the UUK who are clearly trying to divide the staff and students, and keep Higher Education as a business and not the learning catalyst it should be.
If you take anything from this blog, it is to support your lecturers because they are people not service providers. They should be seen as an inspiration to us, as individuals who are standing up for their rights and in-turn the rights of others, including ourselves.