One out, some out

As everyone says around these parts…

We appear to have hit that time of year in the UK when the main union – the UCU – decides some strike action would be in order.

One ballot later and it seems a lot of colleagues agree.

This year, the striking will be about low pay and about changes to the sector pension scheme, which has its own exciting set of problems.

With action starting before the Christmas break, it’s likely this will cause disruption right through the rest of the academic year.

While I stand in solidarity with this, I can’t deny that I have questions about whether this is going to work, mainly because (as one of my colleagues put it) it’s a 19th Century response to a 21st Century situation.

No one I know really wants to go on strike, given the impact it’ll have on students who have already had massive disruptions to study over the past 20 months. Ironically, the switch to online because of Covid might even make employers less interested in new negotiations, if they think they can get away with just playing old content.

More broadly, with HE in the UK looking to be in an ever tighter spot from government, the need for the sector to pull together before even more damage is done is obvious, but our divisions hog the limelight.

Throw in ever weaker unionisation rates and you have a recipe for blockage rather than resolution, let alone revolution.

So what to do?

If we press on the path of least resistance, then more colleagues need to come back to the union. It might not be the most impressive, but it’s still the national negotiator for pay and terms, so the more of us are in it, the bigger its authority and mandate, and the more that more extreme elements will be marginalised.

A revived union might then also have more scope to press employers on other issues, while also working with it to lobby government to deal with issues of joint interest.

Of course, none of this magics up the kind of money the union says is needed and old habits die hard. But maybe we all have to get over ourselves a bit if we’re to get out of this pass.

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