Why I’m On Strike #1

As part of our strike action, we’ll be hearing from CUCU members about why they’re on strike, and how the issues in our current disputes affect them. Last week, Priya Gopal reminded us that power never concedes without a struggle, and that that struggle is ours to fight and win. Today, here’s Áine, a research associate in Psychology, to tell us why she’s part of that struggle.

I’m a research associate and I have been out on strike in solidarity with everyone in the UK system who is struggling against years of declining conditions in the sector. I am leaving the UK Higher Education system this year but I felt an imperative need to join my colleagues on the picket lines. First, even though I have only made a few years of contributions, I don’t like that the pension I earned here is under threat. Second, UK universities are “world-leading” and other countries’ HE sectors will follow their example. Third, I care about my colleagues, and I want to stand up for them, their needs, and their futures.

I imagine that a lot of people have had an experience like mine. I like my work. My workload is heavy, but rarely completely unmanageable. I have always been on fixed term contracts, but I have never struggled to get an extension or a new job. I actually enjoy working in different places and have benefitted from funding programs that encourage mobility. None of this negates the struggles my colleagues face. None of it means that I won’t ever face the problems I’ve seen befall others, from a workload so heavy that it damages mental and physical health, to an “open-ended” contract ruthlessly shut down after a decade of service. Even if I avoid problems like these, it’s not really about me. It’s about solidarity and looking out for colleagues in a sector that does not value them like it should.

Solidarity in my department feels low, which makes it difficult to take a stand. I know that junior staff care about their pensions, and about equality, real terms pay cuts, heavy workloads, and precarity. They also worry about making rent. They worry about being “productive” and staying on the right side of their bosses so they can get a contract extension or a good reference for a less precarious job. But will these worries ever go away if we don’t strike against the conditions that create them? My colleagues might recall concepts like learned helplessness (“I cannot make a difference, so I will not try to fight these continued cuts”), social loafing (“other people will undertake this fight for me”), and pluralistic ignorance (“I think I should strike, but nobody else is doing it, so I guess I shouldn’t”). We also know that a single dissenting voice can give people confidence to step outside the norm… and onto the picket-line

It might be hard to act differently to my colleagues, but being on the picket line is uplifting. I’m only being half-facetious when I call it an excellent networking opportunity. I get to meet so many like-minded, generous people who believe in solidarity and in the power of collective action (and in the necessity of their participation for it to work!). I’ve also had some great chats with members of the public who sympathize with and support our struggle, knowing that an attack on one sector is an attack on all. 

I would love to see more of my colleagues participating visibly in the strike, and to see more messages of support. There is power in numbers, and there is power in a union.