Strikes are the hot topic of the moment on campus, with the lecturer’s strike due to take place across the UK.
Members of the UCU, the largest staff union in the UK, will be taking part in a strike that will last for 14 days over a four week period, against changes that would drastically affect the USS pension scheme.
Also known as a labour strike, or industrial action, a strike is defined as a stoppage caused by mass refusal by employees to work, usually due to employee grievances. Strikes became common during the industrial revolution, due to the growing importance of mass labour in factories and mines and are often used as a form of pressure on the governments to change their policies.
Strikes are undertaken during collective bargaining (a process of negotiation between employers and employees to achieve agreements regarding several aspects of workers’ compensation and rights) and are used as a last resort. When trade union members cannot come to an agreement, through these negotiations, with employers, this usually results in strike action.
UEA has had its fair share of strikes, many having been undertaken by students. In 1971, a student named Bill Hutchinson was found possessing drugs and was expelled. However, an uproar ensued when he was punished for the same crime twice. A sit-in was organised by the students, in which the arts building was taken over for around 10 days. Students and lecturers alike took part.
More recently, in 2016, a ‘die in’ at the Registry office was organised to protest UEA’s investment in fossil fuels. This involved the students lying on the ground, on the reception area of the office, and imitating being dead. Their demands included that the university walk away from fossil fuels. UEA did this earlier this academic year, showing victory for activists at last.
The effect of a strike clearly depends on the scale and impact it has. Historically, strikes have been effective and changed the course of businesses, strengthened unions and set the tone for future strikes. Indeed, in 1968, women from Dagenham, working at Ford as sewing machinists, walked out after having their job downgraded to unskilled. This brought production to a halt and led to the 1970 Equal Pay Act. The popular miners’ strikes of 1972 and ’74 bought down Ted Heath’s Tory government. The pay dispute between the National Union of Mineworkers and the Conservative government, ended when the miners accepted an improved pay offer.
It is difficult to say whether this lecturer strike will be successful, having only just started. However, the impact of unity and determination in the face of injustice shouldn’t be underestimated.