If you’ve been following this blog you will have spotted that I’ve been on strike quite a bit as part of the #UCUrising campaign. If you aren’t interested in the ins and outs of UK higher education, feel free to ignore this blog, I’ll be back to talking about career career guidance pretty soon. Except of course, this dispute has been all about careers and career development and has made me think a lot about how we develop our careers within institutions. I’ve written a couple of posts about the dispute on this blog, so feel free to read them if you are interested.
Over the last couple of months I have been taking action to improve my pay and conditions, but also to improve the pay and conditions of others, particularly those who are paid poorly and who have insecure conditions. Inflation is still running at 8.8% and I’ve seen my bills going up far more quickly than my salary. I feel that I need to keep reiterating this point; I, you and everybody, who isn’t getting pay rises of 8% or more is getting worse off. Inflation will probably drop this year, but how quickly and how far nobody knows. But even if it drops now, we will still be worse off than we were last year until our employers make up the difference.
So, taking strike action isn’t a form of charity, it is the best way of moving forwards my career and my standard of living. But, it is a form of solidarity. I want to be better off, but I’m very happy for others to be better off. Indeed, I’m very comfortable for lower paid people to get a bigger pay rise than me and for universities to put resources into giving precarious staff better contracts.
After 10 days of strike action the employers made an offer to try and end the dispute. It offers us 5%-8% pay increase (with the lowest paid getting the best pay rise due to our negotiations) which means that even the lowest paid people will be worse off than they were a year ago. It also offers workers in ‘old’ universities a much improved pension (this is a big win, but it won’t impact on me or half of the people on strike). There are also steps forwards in terms of reducing precarity, workload and addressing inequalities within universities.
This is all a step forwards and none of it would have happened if we hadn’t gone out on strike. We have taken control of our lives and careers and made change happen. This is what agency feels like. The Union is now asking us to vote on whether we will accept the offer. Again, this is what agency feels like. The university has never asked me if I want a pay rise or if I am happy with the one that I have got. As a member of staff I am at the whim of the institution. As a union member I have agency and control over my life.
I have spent a long time reflecting on what I’m going to do with that agency. How I am going to vote in this ballot over my future? On one hand, I recognise that there is a good reason to ‘bank the win’ and take what we have got so far. On the other, I’m concerned that it is not enough. I think that universities are continuing to short change their staff and are damning us to further decline in our living standards. I’m also worried that the genuine progress on precarity, workload and inequality will be difficult to realise, particularly if we are negotiating from a position of weakness.
Basically, I think that we can do better and I am trusting in my friends and colleagues that we can and will do better.
So I’m going to vote against settling the dispute at this point, I’m going to vote for a new mandate for further industrial action, and if necessary I will go back on strike and return to the picket line. Don’t get me wrong, this is difficult, I don’t love striking, I don’t love not getting paid and despite my moans, I do love my job. Taking strike action is a big sacrifice, but it is one that I’m still willing to make.
I’m willing to do it in part because when I am at work, being a Professor of Career Education, I preach about decent work, about social justice and about people taking agency and making the most of their careers. I can’t really speak these words in good conscience if I don’t do something about them when the opportunity arises.
So, I think that UCU is still rising and I’m happy to continue to rise along with it until our employer make a better and more serious offer. I hope that you will join me, and join the union and the strike now, if you haven’t already done so.