Academic fatigue caused by strikes leaves union with uncertain path

Fatigue from the pandemic and years of fighting for wages and pensions has likely lowered turnout in UK strike votes, academics have said, leaving the University and College Union facing uncertain paths to through conflict.

Although UCU members who voted vigorously supported the walkouts, the non-participation and the 50 percent participation threshold in the collective action imposed by the Westminster government means the union has a mandate to strike in just 58 of 152 institutions he polled: 21 over this one-year salary offer from employers, 33 over salary and university pension reforms, and four over pensions only.

UCU’s higher education committee was due to meet on November 12 to decide on next steps, including whether and when to relaunch certain branches. Jo Grady, the general secretary of the union, said the results of the ballot gave the union “a great mandate to call a strike, at a time of our choosing”.

But some academics have raised concerns about the possible impact of a fourth round of widespread walkouts in just over three years, further disrupting the education of undergraduates who have also seen their learning on campus. severely interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.

“The pandemic and the resulting teaching difficulties have darkened the picture, and many staff members are fighting this battle rather than the bigger national battle over salaries, pensions and contracts,” said Roger Seifert, professor. of industrial relations at the University of Wolverhampton.

Although the National Union of Students supported the UCU planned strikes, Prof Seifert said students at some universities were less supportive of industrial action than before. He argued that staff were “depressed and unhappy” with the approach of industry and government leaders, but that did not necessarily translate into support for walkouts.

“Overall, widespread combat fatigue and general insecurity led to an uneven ballot result. It remains to be seen whether action in some places triggers more activity elsewhere and thus creates a snowball effect, ”he said.

Glen O’Hara, professor of modern and contemporary history at Oxford Brookes University, agreed that exhaustion was a big factor. “People work so hard, especially during school time, that they don’t have the capacity to commit,” he said. “For example, some colleagues with pensions feel that we won’t be back here for another year or two.

“There is also a certain ambivalence in going on strike against students who have had such a bad time, which is not to comment on the good or the bad of doing it, but just that they feel they cannot. , and the easiest way not to knock is not to vote.

James Sumner, professor of the history of technology at the University of Manchester, said he “did not see the case that members were less inclined to vote”, but that the fact that they had given only three weeks for a postal vote had affected the turnout. “There have been endless reports of ballots that have not arrived and of replacements that have arrived too late to be counted,” he said.

Michael Carley, senior lecturer in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Bath and former chairman of the local branch of UCU, said overall attendance had been similar to previous years and the disruption caused by Covid-19 had galvanized anger against precariousness. , which was likely to become a growing priority for UCU.

“I think there is an attitude that any action is going to be a bit of a pain, and the real question is, how do you channel that into something that works?” he said.

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