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A SUCU member in IT explains to non-academics why strike has become the last resort 

There are several issues around the strike. The headline is that we’ve had below inflation pay increases for the decade before this year’s cost-of-living crisis. But there has been a significant increase in casualisation… it’s shocking that some university lecturers are now part of the “gig economy”. Admittedly, a few people do like that arrangement, but many don’t. Finally, many of us chose and stayed in this career for the excellent pension. My “final salary” pension was ended a few years back and my 20 years of contributions was converted to an annuity-on-retirement that will increase in line with inflation… unless inflation goes over a cap that is set via a mechanism I don’t understand. High inflation means that my 20 years of contributions are shrinking and I feel betrayed when the promise was that this was to be linked to my final salary. I know many people don’t have as good a pension, but I chose to remain at the uni through good times and bad and the pension promise was part of that decision… I didn’t realise that they could just decide to invalidate it.  

Last time there was a marking strike it resulted in a big win for the union, but this time it’s going to hit students who’ve had the worst experience of university of any cohort in decades due to the pandemic. They don’t deserve this, but our staff deserve not to have yet another year of below inflation pay increases.  

Personally, I don’t have many expenses so am not hurting but many of my co-workers have kids to raise and each year they are paid a little less (after inflation) and have a little less security at work. Something you may not have thought about is that, while IT people like me have other jobs we can go to, a lecturer has usually done a 3 year degree, a one year MSc or similar, a 3-4 year PhD, done 5 years or so as a “post doc”. That’s 13 years of training to get to be a basic lecturer… and it’s more complicated, as being a lecturer isn’t fungible to other topics. If you are an expert in, say, Roman era pottery, that means maybe you could lecturer in other topics on Roman archaeology or pottery archaeology but there’s less than 200 universities in the country which means maybe 100 jobs in the entire UK for the thing you’ve spent your life becoming competent in, so job hopping usually means moving around the country or even to another country (oops, Brexit screwed that, so tough luck). I’m writing this as I suspect we are not going to be treated kindly in the press and it’s good for people to understand a bit of the background. 

A common response to people unhappy with the career they followed is “if you don’t like it, leave”, but Academia is a job that needs to be done. These are the people teaching the advanced classes to the next generation and doing the research which makes our society wealthier and wiser.  

I don’t want to go on strike. I dislike doing a bad job, and I care about the work we do. I am lucky enough to have skills that could get me a job elsewhere and very modest outgoings. I’ll be voting for strike action because it’s not just about me, and I can afford to lose a few day’s pay even if not all union members can. Even if I couldn’t afford to go on strike, I’d still vote “yes” on the ballot because not doing so takes away the other union member’s right to withdraw their labour. So even if you can’t afford to go on strike every day, or at all, please vote “yes” to not deny other people that option. 

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