Second staff strike: should students join the walk out?

The author is a member of Durham Students Against Austerity

Following the strike on 19 October, UCU, Unite and Unison are going ahead with another day of action across the country this week. They are striking to protect the wages and working conditions of academic staff, and to secure a living wage for everyone who works at the university.

Durham Students Against Austerity, or DUSAA, spoke with Dr. Jenny Terry of the University and College Union Committee at Durham to ask what the strike meant for her, for the University and for society as a whole.

She said that members of the academic staff are striking against a real-terms reduction in their wages combined with a gradually ever increasing workload from senior management and central government, which leaves many “exhausted and demoralised” and potentially unable to teach to the best of their ability.

Unison and Unite are striking to secure a living wage for all Durham’s staff. We have learnt there are currently over 500 people working for the university who are not paid the government-approved rate that allows them to meet the basic cost of living in the UK. Meanwhile the Vice Chancellor awarded himself a 21k pay-rise last year.

In the past, unions representing the various workers would typically strike separately as and when they felt their rights were jeopardized. The fact that they are now coming together is a sign that austerity and marketisation are a threat to higher education as a whole.

Students have been aware of the squeeze on higher education since the increase in tuition fees in 2010–2012. The government’s sale of student debt to private company Erudio is another indicator of their lack of respect for public money and access to education. The DUSAA calls on students to hold the government to account for its attacks on the quality of public life and the opportunities of future generations of learners by supporting the strike on Tuesday.

The point of a strike is to disrupt university life. If your teacher is on strike, respect this and don’t expect them to rearrange their classes, as that would be expecting them to work unpaid. If your teacher is not striking, send them a message to let them know why you won’t be in class.

Union members and DUSAA will be picketing outside the Science Site from 08.00 to 09.45 on Tuesday 3 December. Drop your lectures, join the protest and encourage others to do the same.

Editorial note –

Professor Chris Higgins, Vice-Chancellor and Warden at Durham University, gave the following statement to The Bubble prior to the staff strike last month.

“We fully understand the financial pressures on staff. The final pay offer from the national employers’ representatives of a one per cent salary increase is only part of the overall staff benefit package we offer at Durham University that includes excellent conditions of service, defined benefit pensions, provision for incremental pay increases and relative job security.

“We are putting all possible measures in place to minimise any impact on our students and those staff who are not participating in the action.”

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