On Strike, and Other GrumblingsComments
As I’ve written about, universities in the UK have offered us a 1% pay increase, which they implemented in December, backdating to August. My union went on strike twice last term, once in October and again once in December. Those representing support / professional services, as well as further education lecturers (who only received a 0.7% increase if my memory serves me correct) have periodically supported these actions.
The 1% increase is a joke, for two reasons, neither of which are at all unique to our industry. First, by my union’s own calculation, indexed against inflation, our pay has declined 13% since 2009. Second, Vice Chancellors (university presidents in the UK) have received large pay increases (8.1% according to the BBC) in the past year both down here and in Scotland, and the union’s own analysis suggests an average 5.1% increase (neither inclusive of bonuses nor pension contributions).
As the two one day strikes did not cause any movement on the part of management, the union has changed tack — now we’ve scheduled three two hour strikes over the next month. At least 11 universities have adopted a blunt intimidation approach: they’re essentially locking their employees out for the entire day, arguing that if they participate in the two hour strike they surrender the day’s wage. Curiously, they’re arguing that this decreases the disruption for our students:
A spokesman for Ucea insisted universities are entitled to withhold a full day’s pay if staff do not work normally as it would constitute “partial performance”.
“Higher education institutions do not accept partial performance and many will be deducting a full day’s pay in order to limit the impact on their students,”
“Higher education institutions are dismayed that this form of industrial action has been designed to damage students’ education but will do their very best to protect their students”
My university is only docking us two hours of pay today, unlike the up to 25 who attempt to intimidate, and the backlash to the above in the past 48 hours has seen at least two institutions back off that stand of questionable legality.
That said, at my own university, there are larger issues afoot. The Sociology Department, among whom I count friends and colleagues, is in the process of being gutted, and a new round of “divestment” was initiated on Monday. Tuesday we received an email from the union which in part said the following:
“Some of you may now have received, or know of, the proposals that management has put forward to cut particular posts as part of Academic and Research Review 2015.
We write to inform you that UCU has sent a clear message to management that it opposes compulsory redundancies. UCU will be firmly challenging the pools identified at risk and is seeking an urgent meeting with management to discuss the pool selection process.”
I neither received a letter (email, office post, home post, and it would have gone to all three), nor have heard any information as to those who have, but it does appear to have happened. I’m a little surprised, as my particular unit (the Politics half of P&IR) has always been at risk: we had a round of compulsory redundancies in 2005-06, our major was dropped in 2006, relaunched in 2009, dropped in 2010, and relaunched again in 2013. Needless to say, Monday was not a calm and relaxing day for me.
We had an EGM of the local branch two Fridays ago where this was discussed. To my mind, striking over a 1% pay increase is worthy; however, to make it pay off for me now at the margins the universities would need to between double and triple their offer. I doubt that will happen. However, if there ever was a reason to be in a union, it’s protesting against the annual re-allocation of “investment”, shifting business models, and seeing my institution and “redundancies” in the media every year between 2008 and 2013. I’d happily screw a two hour strike (designed in part to save us money), and walk out indefinitely if it would get my institution to stop sacking people every year. Whatever it would take to save those jobs.
The branch leadership brought this up, and suggested that if we were unified, and if we did all march to the Chancellery, we would probably be successful.
However, we face two problems, both immediately recognisable to Mancur Olson. One, participation in strike action is voluntary, not compulsory. (I voted against these ongoing strike actions, but I’ll be damned if I’m ever crossing a picket line). Leadership implied that we would not be successful in such an action. Attendance at EGMs is illustrative. Immediately before redundancy letters go out, attendance is high. After? it declines. If it’s not a direct threat to one’s livelihood, why should people risk income and the displeasure of management in order to save the jobs of others?
Well, for starters, it might be your own job some day.
The second problem that we face is we operate in an open shop. I don’t have to be a union member at all, let alone support the strike action. If I was a free-rider, imagine all the money I would save; any benefits accrued through improved contracts (such as the one we received between 2006 and 2009) that others sacrificed time and treasure for, I’d still gain. Likewise, Olson’s selective benefits simply do not add up to what I pay monthly in union dues, nor what I’ve sacrificed through the strike actions this academic year.
Today was always going to be a work from home day. I’ve been doing a lot of grading I have to catch up on, there’s a new lecture to write for tomorrow, and time allowing, an initiative for the School of Government that I’m working on. I have a much better computer here, and considerably more comfort, than my janitor’s closet of an office affords. In short, I’m more productive. But rest assured, between 11 and 1, I’ve downed tools. Next Tuesday, we’re scheduled to strike for two hours between 2 and 4. I have lectures from 1 until 2, and 2 until 3. Next week will be a bit more interesting.
Now that I’ve finished this post, I think I’ll have lunch and catch up on a little binge viewing.