Industrial action has had a rather checkered history in the past 50 years of British politics, from the miners strikes of the 70s and 80s to the more recent walkouts over coalition budget cuts and pay freezes. Even our dear old UEA has felt the implications of walkouts last semester, and most recently on the 23 January.
The University and College Union is currently locked in a bitter struggle over the pay of university teaching staff, who haven’t received a pay rise since 2008, meaning that when taking into account the rate of inflation they have been left with a 13% real terms pay cut. This, according to the Union, justifies taking strike action in order to demonstrate to university management that they mean business.
An important observation to make is that such action is being followed by many different unions, the majority being those representing employees of the public sector, however, that does not legitimise it. On the whole, the odd strike may not affect the average student severely, having one or two seminars or lectures canceled out of an entire semester doesn’t seem too dramatic. The issue becomes more serious when employers refuse to budge on their initial offer, causing the unions to step up their campaign. If the most recent round of strikes does not provide a solution, members of the Union have threatened to not mark student exam papers in the summer.
This kind of behaviour is simply petty and irresponsible and will only serve to sour the relations between universities and their paid staff as well as students and their tutors. If the Union was to take such action it could prevent some students from graduating at the beginning of the summer and missing out on places in graduate schemes, as well as generally aggravating the rest of the student population who would want to know how they got on. As one can imagine, such tensions would only result in a breakdown of the healthy relationship between student and tutor. What is more, such action is totally unacceptable in this age of shared austerity. In almost every industry, employees are facing economic hardships, be it budget cuts or even unemployment.
It is quite simply unfair of the University and College Union to complain, considering that its members are, for the best part, still employed on healthy salaries.