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Southampton UCU EGM – 2 December

Southampton UCU members are invited to attend an Extraordinary Members Meeting to take place on Monday 2 December from 12-1pm in room 2/1085 (L/T C). 

The meeting will discuss the current industrial action and plans for future action.  Your feedback will then be taken to the HE Sector Conference on 6 December, which is being attended by your three elected representatives.  This will be your opportunity to raise any concerns/voice your ideas about future action so we would encourage you to attend.

(apologies that the meeting is being held on campus.  Unfortunately, we were unable to secure any suitable meeting rooms off site – the University has granted UCU members permission to enter University premises whilst on strike).

 

 

UCU Strike Action – A letter to students from a member of staff

Many members have asked us to post the text of the letter to students from a member of staff that was read out at today’s rally. We have posted the text below. Please share widely, and particularly with your students.

 

Imagine there’s a toxin in the air on campus. You can’t see it or smell it or taste it, but with every breath more accumulates within you. Not everyone is affected, but almost everyone will know someone who is. The physical effects are subtle at first — accelerated heartbeat, headaches, nausea — but the real damage is in the mind. The toxin is known to cause stress, anxiety, and both fatigue and insomnia. It frequently leads to depression. At its worst, the toxin can be fatal.

Like all poisons, the first to fall victim are those who are vulnerable in other ways. But over time the numbers affected grow. They include not only students but staff. No one is safe — from freshers to graduates, from technicians to Professors Emeritus — victims present in ever greater numbers. One in five students is diagnosed. Some universities see a 300% rise in cases amongst staff. Researchers begin to talk of an epidemic.

Suppose it then emerges that the toxin was known about all along. Vice-Chancellors’, University Executives — even members of the Government — knew what you were breathing. And like the tobacco industry in the 50s, they said nothing. And suppose we find out that they not only knew, but it was they who introduced the toxin to the airstream — milligram by milligram — in the knowledge of what it would do. Perhaps to you, perhaps to your friend, perhaps to your tutor. What do you do when you find this out?

The toxin in our air is marketization — the transformation of education from a social good, into a product. The move to administer centres of learning as businesses, within a competitive marketplace. Marketization is not a chemical, and it is not strictly in the air, but it may as well be. Marketization is the reason your degree costs £27,000. It is the reason universities must compete for funding, students and reputation or go bust. It is the reason your essays are marked by staff on zero hours contracts. It is the reason your lecturer works a 50 hour week. It is the reason you’re thinking about how you’ll make a living, not how you’ll change the world. It is the reason you cannot afford to fail. It’s the reason everything we all do is monitored, measured and turned into metastasizing targets. It is the reason you, I, we are all so tired.

All the research into mental ill-health — and stress in particular — highlights three culprits. These are financial insecurity, pressure and working hours. These factors are not side effects of marketization — they are its M.O. The story of the last decade of Higher Education has been the demand — year on year — for university staff to do more and more with less and less. But at a certain point, the only fuel left to burn is the health of the people in the sector. There is only so much a mind can juggle. Students and staff experience marketisation in different ways — but we suffer the same symptoms, from the same source.

The epidemic of mental ill-health in Higher Education is not a problem that can be fixed with yoga, or mindfulness, or awareness raising. It was important to raise awareness of asbestos when its toxic properties became known. But it was far more urgent for us to demand that it be ripped out of our homes, our schools and our workplaces. Before all else, we had to refuse to keep breathing it. And that’s what we’re doing with this strike.

It is also why it is not easy to explain. It is not one just thing — not only financial loss, not only working conditions and insecurity and not only the way these weigh on younger, female and minority staff disproportionately. It is the deeper sense that things cannot go on as they are. That there is something bad in the air around us. And that far, far too many of us — the people we work with and the students we teach, — are falling sick because of it.

On some level, we suspect all staff and students feel this. And so while we know acutely how much pressure you are all under, and how no one needs this disruption right now — we hope everyone can understand why we are not in our lecture halls, our offices and our seminar rooms. The reason we’re out in the cold is because of what happens to people who stay inside.

UCU Southampton strike action – branch guidance

UCU’s 8 days of strike action begin on Monday 25th November. Please support the strike and please come to take part in our pickets (see our email from last week).

You will find Branch guidance at this link on our local website at this link http://southampton.web.ucu.org.uk/local-documents-and-info/strike-action-and-action-short-of-a-strike-some-members-tips/

You will find UCU generic guidance at https://www.ucu.org.uk/he-action-faqs and more information about the strikes on linked pages.

Please ask if you still have questions!

The case for climate action

Guest blog from Dr. Philip Goodwin, Associate Professor in Earth Systems Dynamics,  School of Ocean and Earth Sciences.

 

As a scientist working in the field of climate change and the carbon cycle, I believe strongly that urgent action is needed.

The truth is, climate change is not a new problem. People have known about the potential for human-caused changes in Earth’s climate for a very long time. The ability of different greenhouse gasses to trap heat was measured back in the 1850s and 1860s. It was quickly realised that if the atmosphere held more of a particular greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, then the climate would be generally warmer.

People have also known that burning fossil fuels, and clearing and burning forests, releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has been measured continuously since the late 1950s. By the late 1970s it was obvious that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was going up year-after-year, and that human emissions were the cause. Measurements now show that carbon dioxide levels are rising ever faster, because each year more fossil fuels are burnt and more forests are cleared.

A big problem with carbon dioxide is that it is difficult to remove from the atmosphere once it has been put there. Some of the carbon dioxide we emit goes into the ocean, and some gets taken up by land, but the rest will stay in the atmosphere keeping the Earth’s climate warmer than it would be naturally for thousands of years.

Daily temperature records at many locations across the globe have been taken for a long time, with a number of records going back as far as the 1850s. Different teams around the world have looked at the available temperature measurements, and all have agreed on what they mean for Earth’s average surface temperature: so far, temperatures are around 1 degree Centigrade warmer than they were in the late 1800s. The only way we can explain this 1 degree warming is by considering the impacts humans have had on the atmosphere, principally the increase in carbon dioxide.

If nothing is done to limit fossil fuel use and the clearing of forests, then the further increases in carbon dioxide are due to cause Earth’s temperatures to rise by another 3 or 4 degrees Centigrade by the end of this century. Such additional warming would have drastic and devastating consequences. To avoid the most serios consequences of man-made climate change, most of the world’s nations have already signed up to keeping global temperatures less than 2 degrees warmer than it would naturally be, and take steps to achieve just 1.5 degrees warming.

All this shows why it is so important to act quickly now, and reduce the amount of carbon dioxide we emit every year. The less carbon we emit now, the less warming future generations will have to cope with. Eventually, to stop climate warming further, we will have to live in a completely carbon-neutral society.

The more quickly we can achieve a carbon-neutral society, and phase out fossil fuels altogether, the less warming future generations will face. Urgent and significant action is now required: to stop warming going above 1.5 degrees Centigrade, assuming we start emissions reductions now, we will need to reach a carbon-neutral society by the year 2050.

All the information needed to make good decisions for our future climate is out there, and has been for a long time. This is an urgent problem that is only going to get worse unless good decisions are made, both on individual and governmental levels. This is why I am keen to see meaningful action on climate – now.

 

 

Counting the cost of casualisation

The current strike ballot on pay, workload, and equality highlights the problems faced by casualised staff. These could be staff on fixed-term contracts (like the vast majority of our early career researchers) or those on hourly-paid or zero-hours contracts, with staff working for a relatively small number of hours per semester (such as with some of our teaching (and other) staff).

A UCU survey from earlier this year prompted 67 responses from Southampton University staff (1.8% of total respondents). The report explored financial insecurity within this group, with respondents to the survey clearly reporting real problems resulting from the precariousness of their income – see tables below copied from the report.

About 60% of respondents have experienced problems with making ends meet, 40% with paying bills, and 30% with paying their rent.

Have you experienced any of the following issues as a result of your employment on insecure contracts? Numbers answering yes Percentage
Problems securing rented accommodation 571 28%
Problems paying rent 613 29.8%
Problems getting a loan 562 27.4%
Problems paying bills 828 40.3%
Problems making ends meet 1228 59.8%
Problems with VISA status 149 7.3%
Problems accessing or maintaining access to benefits 263 12.8%

 

Staff also reported high levels of stress – caused in part by financial insecurity but also by the nature of the work depending on the contract (such as not enough time to prepare, no dedicated workspace and so on).

On a scale of 1 to 10 where 1 = not stressful at all and 10 = extremely stressful, how stressful do you find working on an insecure contract?
  Numbers of responses Percentage of respondents
10 (extremely stressful) 649 24.6%
9 472 17.9%
8 682 25.9%
7 391 14.8%
6 163 6.2%
5 105 4%
4 46 1.7%
3 75 2.8%
2 22 0.8%
1 (not stressful) 33 1.3%

 

For the full report and all findings see Counting the costs of casualisation in higher education – Key findings of a survey June 2019.

Casualisation can mean insecurity, inability to progress and unfair disadvantage. Whilst short-term contracts are often embedded in current research funding models, the recent UCU survey showed that the large majority (97% of respondents) on a fixed-term contract would rather be on a permanent contract, while 80% of those who were hourly-paid would rather be on a contract that guaranteed them hours, even if it meant less flexibility.

The HESA figures for 2017/18 show that of the 2,995 academic staff in the University of Southampton, 1,235 are on fixed-term contracts. We do not have figures for how many are on hourly paid contracts locally. We would like to hear from members here about their experiences of casualised contracts, the impact on themselves, on colleagues and on students. Write in confidence direct to ucu@soton.ac.uk.

And in the context of the current ballot, we urge members to vote to end rising job insecurity.

 

Climate strike rally – thanks for supporting our event

 

Thanks to all who attended the rally in Jubilee Plaza, to our excellent speakers who gave the gathered crowd plenty to think about, and to others who tweeted images, pledges and requests for action.

Also thanks to the Sustainable Energy Research Group (SERG) who planted a tree close to Jubilee Plaza directly after the rally.

 

We are of course only at the beginning of a journey and we intend to work closely with SUSU, other Union colleagues and the University Executive Board (UEB) to ensure that the University achieves the commitments in Southampton City Green Charter (see earlier posts for links).  Any suggestions for activities or actions in the future are welcome, but watch this space…

#climatestrike 20th September, 1200-1230, Jubilee Plaza

Friday will be a major day of global action for the Climate Strike and last week the TUC passed a motion (tabled by UCU) to support the school student Global Climate Strike on 20th September and has called on TUC affiliate unions to organise a 30 minute work day campaign action to coincide with the school students strike on 20th September.

Please come along, if you can, to demonstrate your support. There are a range of speakers confirmed – all will be saying a few short words on #climatestrike and they are:

  1. Bea Gardner (UCU Postgraduate Representative and SUSU link)
  2. Emily Harrison (President, SUSU)
  3. Rachel Mills (Dean of the Faculty of Environment and Life Sciences)
  4. Simon Kemp (Professorial Fellow in Education for Sustainable Development)
  5. Roger Tyres (Research Fellow, Faculty of Social Sciences)

Come to pledge your support for the school strikers, and make practical suggestions to help the University as a whole fulfil the Southampton Green Charter commitment to be carbon neutral by 2030.

20th September – support the climate strike

If you can, please come along to the rally at the Jubilee Plaza, Highfield Campus from 12pm on Friday 20th September. Bring with you placards/ posters and other messages of support if you want to.

If you cannot attend but want to offer your support you can use the national hashtag #climatestrike and #UCUclimatesolidarity, making sure you copy in @southamptonUCU and @Unisouthampton so we can circulate your message. We are pleased that the University management is supporting the rally and they are extending the invitation to all staff to attend.

We are also encouraging people to respond to the following two statements, outlining the individual and collective changes you want to see relating to the environmental impact of the university.

  1. I pledge to…
  2. I call on the university to…

You can either share your ideas at the rally or tweet/ email us using the details above. Given this is a rally related to the environment, we encourage people to be creative with their use of materials for placards and suggestions, using recycled paper and materials where you can.

Why are we doing this?

We are organising the rally to pledge our support for the Climate Strike and the young strikers taking action against climate injustice. We also hope the rally provides an opportunity for us to come together as a university community to confirm our commitment to reducing our impact on the climate and we are pleased that the university and other campus trade unions are joining with us for this important event.

Since February, millions of students across the globe have been striking from school and college to protest climate injustice. Their action has contributed to governments across the world declaring a climate emergency. Yet, without sustained effort, such declarations will not be enough. Global temperature rise will pass a dangerous tipping point within the lifetime of young people alive today if action to halt climate change isn’t taken – we are running out of time. So, to keep up the pressure on leaders, young strikers have appealed to the trade union movement to support them in their struggle, with 20 September the given date for this action to take place.  You can read more about UCU’s approach nationally here and the Youth Strike4 Climate campaign here.

Future plans

This is the first action we have organised of this kind, so it is just the start. We will work in partnership with the other campus trade unions, students and the wider staff body to develop proposals that can move us closer to meeting our commitments to the environment. If you would like to be involved in this ongoing campaign work, let us know.

 

 

Climate Strike – 20 September 2019

In our blog of the 22nd July we said that we would be offering public support for the next ‘Climate Strike’ organised by the Student Climate Network.  This is to confirm that there will be a lunchtime event for staff and students between 1200 and 1230 on Friday 20th September at Jubilee Plaza, Highfield Campus. The University is fully supportive of this and hopes to offer speakers, and is involved in planning the event and communications. We have yet to confirm exactly what will take place but please check back on this blog for more details.

On the same day there are other events – for instance there will be a city-based event between 1100 and 1600 in Guildhall Square, and October Books in Portswood are hosting a range of activities between 1300 and 1700.

If you are unable to get to Highfield Campus on that day, but would like to explicitly offer your support we encourage you to do something locally at your campus or wherever you are at the time. You can publish a photo of you and your colleagues via the hashtag #ClimateStrike using @SouthamptonUCU and @unisouthampton.

More information to follow… suggestions also welcome!   Send these to the UCU office 

You can find more information about how  UCU is supporting the Climate Strike here

 

 

 

 

UCU letter to employers’ assertions about the USS dispute

The date for the opening of the ballot on USS pensions is fast approaching (opens 9 September – look out for your ballot paper!).   UCU national negotiators have set out the demands to our employers in the letter below, a copy of which was sent from our branch to the VC, Professor Mark Spearing, today.  We hope for a positive response which we will share with members.

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