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Why I don't feel that I can join in UCU strike action

(40 Posts)
academicanon Tue 20-Feb-18 21:37:46

I joined the UCU this week and I completely understand reasons for strike action. I won't be striking however I will be taking action short of strike and refusing to cover striking colleagues' classes (resulting in a 25% pay reduction).

I won't be striking for two reasons:

1) I cannot afford to lose 14 days pay. I am in the process of buying my first home and without that pay my mortgage offer would be null and void. I do not have friends or family I can borrow money from. I'm a working class girl who's worked hard for 8 years to secure my first lectureship and purchase my first home. At this moment in my life every penny counts as is needed towards my house purchase.

2) I am still in the probationary period of my contract and my post won't be made permanent (if it will at all) for another year. I am not willing to breech my contract during this probationary period.

Having said that, I still feel deeply conflicted and highly anxious about having to cross the picket line over the 14 strike days. I feel the urge to share my reasons for not striking with colleagues but can't bring myself to and feel it's probably not appropriate. Although I wasn't in the union at the time of the vote, I feel somewhat hypocritical for standing aside while others take action.

Above all, I hope that a favourable agreement is reached swiftly.

I've penned my thoughts here as I didn't know where else to.

Thanks for reading


TheWizardofWas Wed 21-Feb-18 11:48:17

OK - but will you refuse the pension if successful then? Said by another working class female who sticks by her class politics, even as academic.

academicanon Wed 21-Feb-18 12:13:23

An update.

I was awake until after 1am reading and thinking about strike action an it's potential consequences.

I have made the decision to strike for 2 of the 14 days. I feel this enables me to support colleagues and union members whilst still ensuring I can go forward with my house purchase. There is still risk that my contract will no be renewed next year however that risk is there anyway.

After a long hard think and very little sleep, that is the conclusion I have come to. I know that continuing to work would undermine my colleagues efforts and I just don't feel comfortable with that.

MedSchoolRat Wed 21-Feb-18 16:06:14

Why should OP refuse her pension just because she didn't strike? confused

It's harder since you are a UCU member, AA. I hope you have arrived at a course of action you feel more comfortable about.

NeverEverAnythingEver Wed 21-Feb-18 16:56:51

14 days without pay is tough. sad

AuntieStella Wed 21-Feb-18 17:01:15

If you don't want to strike, you need to resign your current union membership, and join one that does not have binding strike votes. A inion is a collective, and (assuming the strike vote was properly conducted) one a strike is called the only honourable course of action is to strike.if you cannot do that, then this is not the right union for you.

Ellboo Wed 21-Feb-18 17:02:10

I was going to suggest you go all out (including picket line) for a couple of days at least. We are all hoping that it doesn’t take 14 days to force them back to the negotiating table - and I think maximum disruption is crucial to that. I do feel for you - this is the first round of strikes where I’ve been salaried and felt not terrified of striking. But it is so important and if we can’t win this one then I really think the employers will walk all over us on everything else.
I hope your colleagues are kind to you - it’s a shitty situation all round.

anotheranonacademic Wed 21-Feb-18 17:28:32

I've come to the hard decision to not strike either. I have a variety of reasons similar to the above. Also, one of the reasons I joined the union in the first place is that I am disabled, and I feel that striking would disproportionately effect me compared to other members. I am nearly ALWAYS on what they 'action short of a strike' - I only work my contracted hours, and I simply can't do anything 'extra' if asked. People usually don't, but some people don't know about my disability and do, and I have to either arrange a trade-off of duties to do the extra if I'm really the only one who can or decline. My Uni has said they'll dock 100% pay for action short of a strike. I'm slightly worried that if I did strike I'd get docked for pay for the whole time of the action. I'm hoping that I don't docked pay for just exhibiting my normal working practices.

Plus, I'm not impressed with my local union - I received no communication from them, and only found out the strike days from the nasty HR message. I received my ballot to vote 3 days after the results had been announced! Actually, I guess I'm more than not impressed. I'm pretty angry with them, and wondering if joining was really worth it - all I've gotten is this angst.

So far I'm just figuring that I'm supporting the union to extent of paying of my dues and additional donations. I think it wouldn't look great for the union for me to quit right now? If they have to report about loss of members or something.

NeverEverAnythingEver Wed 21-Feb-18 17:56:56

UCU has a hardship fund - maybe that would help?

worita Wed 21-Feb-18 18:07:13

I'm in admin. I'm not striking and I feel rubbish about it, but I just can't, I really can't. Dh is unemployed, we spend every penny of my income every month, and the hardship fund (which only kicks in after a few days of action and is £50 a day) would just not pay our mortgage and food needs.

I'm also disabled and already having issues at work because of it (not that they would ever dare officially say it like that).

I feel guilty but I've taken part in past ones which have had zero effect whatsoever (people didn't even notice I was off). This one would only annoy my line manager who already spends most days being pissed off at me.

user1494149444 Wed 21-Feb-18 18:18:12

I don't think this is a typical strike situation in which the employer is going to cave in the longer the strike goes on.
Unlike most industrial disputes, which pits workers vs employers, this strike involves another group of stakeholders, the students.
The longer the strike goes on, the less likely the students are going to continue supporting their lecturers (the fees element is obviously playing a big role here).
There is no guarantee Universities UK will come back to the negotiating table, especially now the Tertiary Review has destabilised the situation further. Many will be assessing their business models and asking whether they can keep employing people in the first place, let alone protecting their pensions.
This strike could go very wrong for lecturers and I think Sally Hunt is a reckless figure with bad timing.

weetabix07 Wed 21-Feb-18 19:51:58

I am not striking for the reasons you state in your initial post OP.

I feel really quite bad but I cannot do it.

weetabix07 Wed 21-Feb-18 19:54:10

I'm not a union member though - so wouldn't be entitled to do so anyway. In a way I am relieved I am not a member as it would be hypocritical to be one and not strike.

It's a shitty situation.

Slightlyperturbedowlagain Wed 21-Feb-18 20:14:35

I’ve thought very long and hard about whether I should join the UCU specially to join the strike, as it’s an issue I feel strongly about, however I have decided not to. Firstly because I think this is one that the UCU won’t win. I think UUK will just sit it out. The paradigm for pensions is changing across the UK- I don’t like it, it will have a massive impact on me personally, but I’ve been expecting this for sometime tbh. I think it will have a very negative effect on staffing, particularly in STEM where pay is much better in the commercial sector, but I also think it’s inevitable that defined benefits pensions will come to an end. All of these mostly public sector schemes where benefits are not directly linked to contributions are unpredictable and therefore risky in terms of affordability, particularly with the restructuring that will result from Brexit. The tuition fees review will undoubtedly also result in even more underfunding, so HEIs will not be paying more into the scheme, some will quite possibly close in the next decade or so due to financial pressures.
The second reason (and the reason I’m not already a UCU member) is that I don’t rate their efforts from what I’ve seen, locally or nationally. Major restructuring at our institution has been badly handled and staff have not been well-served. There is mass casualisation across the sector and that is more of an immediate issue for many staff, who have nowhere to live and are struggling to afford bills, yet insufficient progress has been made in resolving that.
Having said all that, I truly hope I’m wrong and I will be offering moral support to striking colleagues and explaining/ defending their actions to students because I respect their decision and their reasons, I just don’t share them.

milkjetmum Wed 21-Feb-18 20:50:58

To the op, I think if you didn't join until after the vote for the strike you are in more of a grey area. I joined just before the last strike period and didn't strike then (but stayed away from the office).

Striking this time. Money will be very very difficult but then again that impact is smaller than potential retirement impact.

Mainly I am increasing angry that uuk etc are putting staff like us under this kind of stress, when it is clear that almost everyone wants negotiation to continue. I am angry that so many people without union representation will be affected (I paid into uss as a postdoc). I am irritated by the HR emails which are so inept. And frustrated by rumblings that the whole thing was a fiddle from Oxbridge who want to get out of the scheme.

SusanBunch Wed 21-Feb-18 21:17:06

I agree with you, OP.
Many of the staff being asked to strike will never get a permanent post in HE and some will leave the sector altogether. It is definitely not fair to expect people to risk losing their homes and not be able to support their families over this. I saw someone on twitter saying that he does not even have a pension as he is a new staff member on a fixed term contract, has a new baby and won't be able to pay rent this month, but is still striking 'out of solidarity'. Idealistic, but I can't fully understand that way of thinking. If you end up not getting a permanent role, you will have sacrificed yourself for the sake of other people's pensions, including potentially putting your family's welfare on the line.

user1494149444 Wed 21-Feb-18 21:29:27

There are lots of conspiracy theories floating around, but the fact remains that the USS is in major deficit.
But there could well be hope in the form of rising interest rates. As pension schemes are heavily invested in government bonds, this could offset their "loss-making years" and help narrow the deficit.
At root this is a financial issue and there is the danger of over-reaction on both sides. Compromise is needed sooner rather than later before this story occupies the front-pages on a regular basis and undermines the sector as a whole.

titchy Wed 21-Feb-18 21:38:54

The proposals changes to the scheme are NOTHING to do with the deficit - even if you believe there is one.

The HE review makes no difference at all either.

Blame Oxford and Cambridge for this one.

BroccoliOnTheFloor Wed 21-Feb-18 21:47:50

I think everyone has to weigh their own ability to go on strike, and make up their own minds. 14 days of no pay is a lot to ask. However, I would encourage you to rethink your reasons, as:

1)there is a hardship fund. You can get £50 a day back. Can you manage that for a few days more? Are there any sacrifises you could make that would allow you to go on strike at least one or two days more?

2)Your employer is legally not allowed to retaliate. Even if you are on probation, they are legally not allowed to take this into consideration when deciding. Of course, if you have inside information that your head of school would try to come up with other reasons to not give you probation illegally, then you are justified in protecting yourself. However, then you might also consider going to the union with this information once the current mess is over, and asking for a case worker.

I will not judge you for not striking, but many people are striking who are in much more difficult situations. Everyone should do as much as they feel they can. Every extra day, especially early on, helps.

Good luck.

LivLemler Thu 22-Feb-18 08:03:03

I'm not a union member so I'm not striking. I don't feel great about it though, it's rare I support a strike (although I fully support the right to strike) but I fully believe in this one. However, the last day of the strikes is the day I go on maternity and I just can't leave that much material uncovered, I've no way to rejig my classes since I won't be around after, and exams are already set in line with requirements of a professional body.

Heading in soon to teach this morning and (cowardly) hoping I can find a door without a picket.

Slightlyperturbedowlagain Thu 22-Feb-18 09:45:28

The HE review makes no difference at all either.
It quite possibly will in that it limits the ability of HEIs to pay extra pension contributions into the scheme (which is being suggested in some quarters). A large portion of the money comes from tuition fees in many HEIs so if that is reduced then gross income falls. Obviously there are other areas ripe for cutting, but even cutting VCs pay back to the 100k mark will only make a relatively limited amount of difference.

titchy Thu 22-Feb-18 09:55:00

I doubt the HE review will end up with significantly differential fees - bad for widening access to STEM for a start. Don't forget the post-92s who are far more reliant on fee income and less able to increase recruitment to offset increased staff costs aren't involved.

One suggestion I read this morning was that the Gov could nationalise the scheme which would bring billions back into the Treasury and provide parity of scheme across the whole sector. Win-win! Ideologically unlikely sadly.

TulipsInAJug Thu 22-Feb-18 10:07:42

After working on part-time, casual teaching contracts in HE for 11 years, I (though I'm a member of UCU as I now work in FE) wouldn't support the strike if I was still in HE. Why should I put myself out for privileged, permanent staff members when I was denied a permanent post for 11 years, let alone a pension?

Slightlyperturbedowlagain Thu 22-Feb-18 10:38:49

titchy I agree to some extent, but there’s also a whole group of non-RG, non post-92 HEIs that do have fees as a significant portion of their income, and given the current government’s performance generally I am not hopeful that anything sensible will come out of the fee review sad.
Tulips that’s exactly what I mean about poor performance of the union. I was fortunate to get a ‘permanent’ contract after many years on the basis you describe, mainly because due to other people leaving, due to a niche speciality I ended up being a much needed commodity, on which point I pleasantly explained I was planning on taking up the offer of a massive bursary to do teacher-training if they didn’t want to give me a proper contract. It’s still only P/T but at least I now have certainty.

user1494149444 Thu 22-Feb-18 10:52:38

The increasing use of short-term contracts isn't just the result of gov policy and union weakness. Many established academics turn a blind-eye to them because a) they can be used to get teaching cover for sabbaticals and b) they keep students in the system so long as they think there is the possible prospect of a FT job.
Not all senior managers are awful. Not all academics are good.

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