Should UCU still strike?

Gemma Powell mulls over potential industrial action from the UCU

Gemma Powell
26th October 2020
Image: Magnus Hagdorn on Flickr
Recently, it was announced that teaching is being moved to online as a default for the rest of the term. However, the Newcastle University branch of the University and College Union (UCU) is still in negotiations with the University over risk assessments for the campus. If these demands are not met, then the union could still ballot over industrial action. Is this fair, and how will this affect students?

If the University hadn’t agreed to online teaching as the default, then the Newcastle UCU branch may have had more grounds to strike. The University had been considering a large return to campus (whilst in Tier 2) in November, which was perhaps a little too early. Some staff have vulnerable family members or are vulnerable themselves. They were quite rightly worried about returning to a group of mainly 18-25 year old asymptomatic spreaders of the virus. At this point, I think many students would have supported a strike, and understood concerns about the lack of preparation for a return to campus.

Support for a strike has likely diminished amongst students

However, now that the only issue is how risk assessments are carried out, I feel that support would be absent from student groups. Reading the demands from the union, it feels like this is much more of a bureaucratic issue. Even if it is over safety, it isn’t as important as the actual forced return to campus.

The UCU branch could support a student rent strike

It is possible for the union to get students onboard with the strike, as opposed to making them grumble at their lecturers. The branch could speak to recently organised student groups and support a student rent strike, particularly in university owned accommodations. A combined strike to hit the University hard would be perhaps best, if the UCU feel that they are not achieving anything through further talks.

Featured Image: Magnus Hagdorn on Flickr

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