Strike Action: A Postgraduate Opinion

One of our writers discusses her take on strike action.

Rachael Winters
25th March 2022
Is strike action fair on students? Image credit: Marxist Student Federation
It is fair to say that the past two years have been hard on university life, for staff and students alike. After the pandemic derailed much of our learning and research, yet another round of strike action was the last thing anybody wanted.

However, for the fifth year in a row, our teachers chose to walk out of the classroom demanding a correction to the injustices they face due to worsening corruption within the education system. Employers expect unmanageable workloads to be completed on exploitative casual contracts, which are then met by 35% pension cuts and immoral pay gaps. These are the four fights that now see teaching staff at a ‘breaking point’. Additionally, repeated industrial action suggests that these demands are falling on deaf ears. The Students’ Union voted to support the strikes by a close majority and this article hopes to address the concerns of the 42% that voted against the motion and give a little clarity around the necessity of industrial action.

Despite agreeing with the demands made by the UCU (and, more generally, the use of strikes as a vehicle for the voice of the worker), as a student, it can be difficult to sympathize with industrial action which seems to be aimed in the wrong direction. During my undergraduate, I felt that the disruption of the strikes did not hit university employers but my education itself. When classes were cancelled, feedback withheld, and routines dismantled, it was my learning that took the brunt of the fall and my mental health that was affected.

During my undergraduate, I felt that the disruption of the strikes did not hit university employers but my education itself.

Upon talking to members of the UCU and reading their publications, the real severity of the issue became clear. Staff and students are no longer united under the university as an institution of learning; they are divided by the systematic commodification of Higher Education. Tuition fees have risen over 900% since their introduction in 1998, and the conditions that educators are expected to work under are depleting along with their pension funds. The value of profit has exceeded the value of education. The problem lies with executive management and their interest in capital over the quality of education and work-life standards.

Now as a PGR student, I find it highly frustrating that every year the fight recurs. My colleagues and friends are now fighting the same battle as the lecturers, with astonishing workloads impacting their studies with little reward.

Working and learning are two sides of the same coin for PGRs which offers a unique perspective on this matter. Strike action is necessary to improve working conditions whist disruptions are targeted at the learning environment. Seemingly we have to choose between the two, which should never have to be the case. The wider this gap becomes the more the institution fails to function, and the more people will be dissatisfied. Staff working conditions are our learning conditions, which is why standing in solidarity with our lecturers is paramount to the improvement of university life.

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