On the commencing day of the UCU strike (20 February), Students Against Strikes joined supporters on the picket line to counter-protest. The UCU’s recent decision to continue strike action over 14 days through February and March up to this point has been met with wide student support.
Caitlin Hurley attended the strikes at Newcastle University and took the image above, posting it to Twitter with the caption: “Imagine loving licking boots so much that you spend your student days protesting AGAINST your striking staff?!”
The post has been widely shared on Twitter, amassing over 1300 likes and almost 200 shares at the time of going to print, and the reaction to it has shown the polarised attitudes towards the strikes.
Students Against Strikes (SAS), a non-hierarchical political organisation, is aiming to express their dissatisfaction about the ongoing industrial action to the UCU. A spokesperson for SAS stated: “We’re all working towards an end to this kind of thing happening, but the UCU needs to know about the discontent as well as support that exists on campus, hence our campaign.”
The UCU said: “We recognise that students are frustrated. We do not do this lightly – the union has been brought to this point by the lack of movement by vice-chancellors. There is a move to destroy the purpose and value of higher education by making it all about profit. Universities are learning communities and educational charities, first and foremost.
“It is hard for students to hear this but this isn’t about one person’s single degree – this is about what the value of those degrees might be in a society which does not value higher education. It is really hard for students and we recognise that. It is really hard for staff, who are going without pay for 14 days, to stand up for the future of higher education, and for the value of a university education.
The strikes have been the source of discomfort for students, who are worried about their tuition fees ‘going down the drain’. Emily Johnson put forward a petition on change.org for partial compensation for missed contact time.
Students Against Strikes explained their position regarding their desire for refunds. The organisation commented that while they did not have any involvement with this petition, “we do support the general call for refunds. It goes to show the grassroots discontent at this round of strikes,” adding that they felt that “the strikes are too high a cost to our education.”
The UCU is an organisation of academics across the UK that addresses “pay, precarity, workload, mental health, gender/BAME pay gaps, pensions.” Its justification for the industrial action and the problems it may bring to students are in the long-term benefits for all stakeholders that striking can achieve: “our working conditions = students’ learning condition.”
Thomas Leach, supporter of the strikes, offers a counter-argument on the situation. Despite agreeing with SAS’ position on strike compensation, he counteracts their stance, stating: “If students are unable to graduate, this would be extremely unfair. However, the striking lecturers are not at fault here, or at least not entirely.”
But the argument Leach criticises most heavily is SAS’ slogan “Stop playing politics with our degrees!” Leach defends the apolitical roots of the UCU strikes. “The UCU is a trade union asking for improved working conditions, rather than a political party looking to gain some sort of power.”
While agreeing with some of SAS’ points, Thomas Leach believes that the approach of blaming lecturers is “based on some preconceived notion of strikes being a malicious act against students, a position the university management would love us all to take.”
Newcastle UCU has, however, expressed that, despite four students holding up the SAS poster at various points, they have been generally well-supported by students on campus. A spokesperson praised the “many, many students who have stopped by with biscuits and coffees, and whose parents have reached out in support via social media”.
Last modified: 27th February 2020