How Students can Support the UCU Strike for USS Pensions
Starting next week, university staff will be engaging in fourteen days of strike action. I've had a few messages from students who want to support the strike but aren't sure what they can do.
Here's a handy list of ways you can help. Feel free to pass it on.
1. Write to your university principal or vice-chancellor.
The UCU has a pre-written letter you can send at this link: https://www.ucu.org.uk/studentvoice?action=search&typetwfy=MP&postcode=&focus=db&typedb=USS+institution&keywords=The+University+of+Edinburgh#summary
If you're at Edinburgh, the relevant people to contact are:
Prof. Peter Mathieson, University Principal: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sarah Smith, The University Secretary: University.Secretary@ed.ac.uk
Charlie Jeffery, Vice Principal Learning and Teaching: email@example.com
Gavin Douglas, Deputy Secretary Student Experience: Gavin.Douglas@ed.ac.uk
2. Tell your lecturers and tutors that you support them.
Whether it's in the form of an email or a few words in person, it means an awful lot to people who are striking that their students support them. We recognise that this is likely to cause significant disruption to your education, and it's not an action we take lightly or enjoy taking. The most recent survey (https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/students-split-over-support-uss-pensions-strike-poll-reveals) suggests that students are currently about 50:50 on whether they support the strike or not, and whilst very few of those students blame the union or their lecturers, it's deeply important to your lecturers for them to know that you're on their side.
Some universities are already resorting to underhanded and potentially illegal tactics to attempt to scare their staff into breaking the strike. I know that multiple places have done this, but for example: Warwick have told staff that they will have 25% pay deducted if they work to contract (i.e. do the job they are paid to do, implying that they are expected to do more work than they are paid to do), and their pay will be docked at 1/260 rather than 1/365 for every day they strike, implying that they are not paid to work weekends. https://twitter.com/uncomfy/status/962005207021318144
3. Ask for your money back.
There are already multiple petitions set up by students asking for their tuition fees back for the days on which they are affected by strikes.
It is highly unlikely that you will have this demand fulfilled, but it's a display of deep discontent with the current system. Bear in mind that the only way in which we are able to influence the system through striking is essentially by making students angry enough that they *do something*. There are *far* more of you than there are of us, and you're the ones who pay the universities for your education (albeit in a back-loaded way). Tell them that their treatment of their staff is unacceptable, and that you want your money back.
4. Donate to the strike fund.
University staff risk, and in some cases sacrifice, their financial livelihood in order to strike. Depending on which days you work, you could be losing up to 14 days of pay. Many tutors and lecturers live paycheck to paycheck, particularly those of us who are on precarious zero-hour or low guaranteed-hour contracts.
We *do not get paid* for the days that we strike. It's a common misconception that we do. Many staff are considering breaking the strike in order to work so that they are able to get paid, because they can't afford to sacrifice the money they would normally earn.
Striking staff can claim some money from the UCU Strike Fund for the days that they are affected, but they can only do that if there is money to claim. You can donate here: https://www.ucu.org.uk/fightingfund
5. Tell your friends.
As I stated above, currently around 40% of the student population are in support of the strike, whilst 40% are against it. That means 60% of students could be convinced that it's something they ought to support.
I've written previously about why this *is* something you should support (https://www.timsquirrell.com/blog/ucu-why-lecturers-tutors-strike-why-support) and you can draw on some of those items in order to make the argument to your friends that they should not just passively condone the strike, but take some of the steps outlined above to make themselves heard.
In addition, it's worth noting that the average lecturer is likely to be around £10,000 worse off per year in terms of their pension as a result of the proposed changes by Universities UK. That's a 40% cut. I don't want to work in a situation where I'm concerned about my future financial security, and I don't want my supervisors or my colleagues to have to work in that situation either. I, and many others, will *strongly* consider leaving this profession (or never entering it in the first place) if these changes go through, because it simply won't be worth the sweat, blood and tears if we have to then worry that we won't even be able to retire comfortably.
Talk to your friends. Get their support.
6. Join us on the picket line.
Your local UCU branch will be organising pickets at your university. Find out when and where they're happening, get some friends together, make some signs, and come on down to support your lecturers and tutors. If you're in Edinburgh, you can find details of their plans here: https://ucuedinburgh.wordpress.com/