Thursday 31 October 2013

On strike

Today was the first day I've ever been on strike.  Until fairly recently I didn't have a job secure enough to strike over!

The higher education sector in the UK has had an average real terms pay cut of 13% over the past five years.  This year we were offered a 1% rise, up from 0.8% last year - way below the rate of inflation.  Another pay cut.  We're being expected to do more work for less money.  A familiar tale but no less wretched and unscrupulous for all that. 

It was an enjoyable experience if bloody cold.  The end of October is not a great time to be stood outside for hours in England.  But at least it didn't rain - we've had storms here in the past week!

The most interesting thing was watching people cross the picket line.  A pretty even mixture of genuine solidarity, polite tolerance, slightly bewildered indifference and barely veiled hostility.  The latter reaction was especially fascinating.  These sorts of moments reveal a lot about the people you work with.  Pigheaded, self-absorbed ignorance is a prevalent quality even among the highly educated - or perhaps I should say especially among the highly educated.

I learned that only about 20% of the university's employees are unionised, which is fairly average for the UK.  This figure chimes with my estimation of absenteeism on the day but probably only half that number participated in the pickets and demonstrations.  The rally at the university's main administrative building was impactful if not overwhelming.  The attitude of those who turned out was heartening and the rhetoric was enlivening.  The wonderful Professor Harriet Bradley spoke truth to power with inspiring vigour.  It was a reminder that there's life in academia yet, although most of her peers were conspicuous by their absence.  Champagne socialism is alive and well, also.