It took me a while to support the UCU in striking. As Undergraduate Academic Officer, my first thought was that I cannot support something that disrupts teaching, particularly after the pandemic and numerous strikes in the past.
That was until I came to understand the issues facing our staff and how they tie in directly with the quality of our education here at Durham.
We could fight against the strikes themselves; a short-term and rather useless battle as the strikes are already happening.
Or we could work with the strikes, address the long-term issues that face our education and, pragmatically, try to make these strikes as effective as possible to prevent further industrial action.
Our learning conditions are impacted by the working conditions of our staff: we all share the same learning community.
Short-term, casual contracts create instability and job insecurity, reflected in short-lived modules and shifting tutors.
Many of our staff are overworked, hence the difficulty sometimes of securing one-to-one sessions and assessment feedback.
That ‘working to contract’ can be used as a disruptive tool, where staff members only work the hours they are contracted to do, demonstrates the extent that out-of-hours work is an expected and needed resource for this university.
Add to these the issues of pay not meeting inflation, pay inequality, and pension cuts and we have an undesirable working culture, characterised by increasing workloads and decreasing benefits.
This culture is more damaging to our education in the long-run than the strikes. Of course, these strikes will be disruptive. I am working with the University on a set of policies to ensure that our education continues, even if teaching is disrupted.
As students, we can support our staff by venting our frustrations and anger towards the University: specifically, Heads of Department, the Deans of Faculties and Deputy Executive Deans, as well as members of the University Executive Committee.
If you are angry that strikes are happening, these are the people to contact. Tell them you are angry, tell them to get back to the negotiation table: we are the financial backbone of the University, let’s use our voice.
Image: Tim Packer