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UCU Strike 2022-23

A guide for Geography students at the University of Exeter

– over 1,300 views so far –

– last updated 29 January 2023 –

Phase 1 of this industrial action took place in November 2022. We’ve archived our webpage explaining why here, if you want a recap.

On this page you’re looking at, we focus on what’s happening in Phase 2, right now.

After 3 days of strike action with no meaningful response, UCU strike action is escalating into 18 days of strike action.

  • Week 1 – Wednesday 1 February
  • Week 2 – Thursday 9 and Friday 10 February 
  • Week 3 – Tuesday 14, Wednesday 15 and Thursday 16 February 
  • Week 4 – Tuesday 21, Wednesday 22 and Thursday 23 February 
  • Week 5 – Monday 27 and Tuesday 28 February and Wednesday 1 and Thursday 2 March 
  • (No action week commencing Monday 6 March) 
  • Week 6 – Thursday 16 and Friday 17 March 
  • Week 7 – Monday 20, Tuesday 21 and Wednesday 22 March.

EXPLAINER

In the buildup to this second phase of UCU’s industrial action in 2022-23, this article was published in Exeposé.

University of Exeter student newspaper Exeposé, 25 January 2023.

PROTECT THE RIGHT TO STRIKE

The first day of UCU strike action coincides with strike action by teachers, civil servants and rail workers.

Flyer for Exeter UCU’s involvement in the national Trades Union Congress ‘protect the right to strike’ day on February 1st 2023.

Why?

The UK has a history of restrictive union legislation (see here), and the latest erosion of worker rights is happening right now as the Strikes (Minimum Services) Bill makes its way through Parliament.

“The strikes (minimum service levels) bill … would mean that people working in border security, education, the fire brigade, transport, the NHS and nuclear decommissioning would have to maintain minimum levels of service on strike days. So some teachers or nurses, for example, would be expected to work, regardless of whether they are a union member or not. The language of the bill suggests that sweeping powers will be given to employers to determine what the minimal service level will be on any given strike day, and even who constitutes a key worker and should therefore be required to work. Unions would be expected to ensure their members are meeting these minimal levels of service. Unions could be taken to court and forced to pay for an employers’ losses caused by strike action. And if a strike compromises the minimum level of service, those continuing to observe the action would be doing so illegally. Someone going on strike would therefore not receive legal protections, such as from being fired, if they went on strike under these conditions. Their employer could consider them in breach of their contract and personally liable. The definitions given for key workers and minimum service levels in the bill are quite broad, and give employers the ability to decide who and what qualifies. For example, in a hospital, aside from doctors and nurses, cleaning and administration staff could also be declared key workers, and forced to maintain minimal service levels. There would be nothing to stop a rail company declaring all scheduled services as essential, effectively stopping members from striking at all. As employers get to decide which individual workers they see as vital, they could choose to name union members only, although this may count as trade union victimisation, illegal under the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992” (Stephen Daniel’s 2023, np link).

Wednesday 1st February is an important day in Exeter. Join the UCU picket. Walk with us into town. Hear the speeches. Talk to people who are there. Watch the public reaction. Watch it on the news.

😘 check back for updates 🤔


WHAT STUDENTS CAN DO

Here’s a slide deck made by Leeds UCU for students who would like to better understand what the strike is about and what they can do to support striking staff.

There are two main things you can do to support the UCU action and help end the strike ASAP!

Make your voices heard

contact your university Vice Chancellor and MP asking them to urge the negotiators (UCEA) to work constructively with UCU to resolve the dispute (for your MP, here’s how).

Let striking staff know you support them

join our teach outs on strike days!

organise a fundraiser for our strike fund

follow us on social media @ucu @exeterucu

show your support by using #UCURising*

*Geography students please add the hashtag #notallgeographers (there are some notoriously hardline Vice Chancellors who are geographers, and we’re not all like that! See the interlude below).

UCU members love it when the students they teach & work with come along and get involved.


STUDENT SOLIDARITY

Because University staff and students often see themselves in the same boat, student bodies often express their solidarity with UCU members taking strike action.

UCU members love it when this happens!

But this can be confusing for University bosses and their representative organisations who see students as ‘consumers’ who should be annoyed that what they paid £9,000 a year in fees for (much more for international students) is not what they are getting during a strike.

So UCU members are super-pleased to see the National Union of Students supporting their strike action.

“Students stand in solidarity with the 70,000 university staff across the UK who will strike later this month. Staff teaching conditions are students’ learning conditions, and we must fight together for a fairer, healthier education system for everyone who works and studies. This is the fifth year in a row that government cuts to education and workers’ rights have resulted in strike action on our campuses. In that time, staff and students have stood together in the fight for better pay and conditions for all university staff, including the thousands of postgraduate students on increasingly casualised contracts. The struggles we face as students are inextricably linked to the reasons that staff are striking. High rents, astronomical international student fees, and cuts to maintenance support have happened for the same reasons that staff are suffering under huge workloads – the failed marketisation of the sector which has put profit above staff and student well-being. Universities and employers must come to the table and take meaningful action to end these disputes. They have a responsibility to their staff and students to end unacceptable pay disparities for racialised staff, disabled staff, and women, and to protect staff pensions to that they can have a decent retirement. As the workers of the future, students have everything to gain from UCU members winning this fight” (NUS vice president higher education Chloe Field, November 2022, np link).

And to see the commitments made by the Exeter Guild of Students to:

  • Stand in solidarity with members of UCU staff and students that are taking action
  • Encourage students to talk to their lecturers taking part in the strike action
  • Sharing materials from UCU to help students understand why strike action is taking place
  • Organising an event in collaboration with UCU to inform students about the purpose of the strike action and enabling students to ask questions to members of UCU

Read the full Guild Industrial Action page here.

Now imagine what UCU members, students and University managers feel about students occupations!

Here’s a student report on the occupation of Northcote House on Exeter’s Streatham campus in 2018.

NB you can read other perspectives on the action on: the University of Exeter’s Industrial Action webpage || Exeter UCU’s website || UCU’s industrial action FAQs


MINIMISING THE IMPACT

During strike action, UCU strategists, local branches and cultural activists eagerly await University Vice Chancellors’ public statements about what they can and cannot do to end the strike.

When strikes take place, students often receive emails from them saying something along the lines of:

“we’ll do everything we can do to minimise the impact on your education and experience”
(University of Leeds in Jones 2021, np link).

For UCU members, ‘everything’ includes making serious efforts to resolve the dispute through meaningful national negotiation with UCU on ‘Four Fights’ and Pensions.



This page has been compiled by Prof. Ian Cook, the Geography UCU rep working at the University of Exeter’s Streatham campus to support and inform legally-mandated UCU strike action. Photos used above are from the 2022 UCU industrial action in Exeter and were nabbed with thanks from the twitter accounts of Emma de Saram, Megan Watmough and Sabina Leonelli. The meme was Ian’s. This page was first published on 20 November 2022 Please check back for further updates