The deeply moving words below are the text of the speech given by Katja Laug on behalf of Warwick Anticasualisation on Day 2 of the UCU Strike 2019. We reproduce these in full so people have the chance to understand why we are taking action and to understand the way that HE institutions, especially Warwick, treats these friends, colleagues, comrades. The sector has changed to be unrecognisable from the one that many of us entered 20, 3o or 40 years ago. Warwick UCU would like to reiterate our support for all workers at Warwick. If you would like to support us in this, please donate to the solidarity fund which will help support low income members to take action, to fight, alongside us.
Education is not a commodity. Students are not customers. And educators are not service providers. Yet, these are the terms upon which Warwick and universities across the UK, conduct the education of its students.
According to the HESA Staff Record of 2015/16, collated by the UCU, Warwick ranked at #1 for Teaching Only and Teaching & Research Staff who were insecurely employed – this included our colleagues on fixed-term contracts, and those employed as Sessional Tutors. According to this data, 66.5% of teaching and research staff at this university are employed precariously. 60% of teaching delivered at this university is given by casualised “workers”.
Week in, week out, we have to justify that we deserve the pay for our work. Yet we cannot claim for the actual hours it takes us to prepare classes or grade papers as the university decides how many hours we can claim for marking and prep time. We do not gain benefits from continuous employment, which means that we do not know whether we will secure a paycheque beyond the immediate future.We cannot evidence income for visas or citizenship. We cannot plan – for the immediate or mid-term futures. Classes can be dropped at will, and our hours cut. If we were to become seriously ill, require compassionate leave, or become pregnant, we simply would not be paid, despite teaching, marking, and contributing to the accredited courses which Warwick “delivers” to its students. Through these processes, we are forced into antagonistic relationships not only with senior management at this university, but with our Heads of Department, our professional/administration teams, our colleagues and, ultimately, our students. This is not only not good enough, but it is simply unsustainable.
Strike action has been called to combat pay inequality in the university: the precarious nature of academia for early career researchers dictates what kind of researchers can realistically pursue a career in the academy. These kinds of insecure pay structures disproportionally affect women, disabled people, and BAME researchers.
The question we have to ask ourselves, our colleagues, our Heads of Department, our students, and most importantly of our senior management is: is this what the university should be like? Should knowledge, education, and research only be open to those who can afford it? To those who can afford to take the risks associated with becoming an academic in the neoliberal university?
We know that by working collectively, we can build a better university. We have won before, and can win again. In recent years, casualised staff fought off the university’s attempt to impose Teach Higher – a precursor to the current system. But that success was only possible with the solidarity from more established and secure colleagues.
We are pleased to welcome everyone to the picket line today. It is great to see so many of you voted in favour of fighting for our financial futures – for our pensions. But as casualised staff and early career researchers we also see the immediate need to address pay inequality and job insecurity, which hinder us from envisaging a ‘future’ in academia at all. That’s why we see the demands in both ballots inseparable and equally important – you cannot have one without the other. The marketisation of higher education is meant to divide us, and to stop us to fight as a collective. We can’t let it happen.
On this note, it has come to our attention that a number of departments have employed strike-breaking tactics which pose tremendous threats for casualised staff to take industrial action. Notably, the Philosophy department has sent an email to its students, asking them to report specific staff who have taken strike action. The online form that they have sent to students includes a mandatory field to report staff. STP tutors in Philosophy have also been asked to report to the department whether they were not striking, indirectly reporting to the department those who are striking. They have also been offered the opportunity to seek support from their Director of Graduate Studies, which blurs the line between being on an STP contract ad being a postgraduate student. Staff from the Chemistry department are also threatened by an email, saying that they should take their ‘future career prospect’ into consideration before taking industrial actions. We find it outrageous that departmental management deliberately attack our soft spots – in these circumstances our care for students and passion to pursue an academic career – to stop us from striking, rather than coming out with constructive plans to make the academic workforce and higher education more sustainable.
If you are employed via STP you should declare to the STP resource email account that you are striking every day, including days that you would not typically work, in order to cause disruption. They will reply asking you to fill in an online self-declaration form via SuccessFactors. DO NOT do this, you are under no legal or contractual obligation to do so.
As precarious workers we stand in solidarity with precarious workers everywhere. We call on UCL to end out-sourcing cleaning staff, and porters, we support the workers at Amazon in their fight for a living wage, our solidarity goes to the McStrikers, Goldsmiths cleaners, Uber drivers, the workers in Chile who mine the minerals for the ECars that are supposed to keep Europe clean, and all strikers and protesters for dignity, justice, and security in the UK and worldwide. We stand with WarwickOccupy and their anti-racist action and we stand with cleaners and porters at Warwick, who are disproportionately affected by Warwick’s plans to scrap the subsidised bus tickets with e Courcey under the guise of redirecting the money for the Green New Deal. These fights are interconnected and intersectional and we recognise that we, the academic precariat, are only the tip of the melting iceberg.
WAC, or Warwick Anti-casualisation, is a self-organised group of PGRs and ECRs from across the university that has been active since 2015. We work closely with the UCU, but we are not directly a part of the UCU. We have been organizing events to help people under STP understand their contracts and get support when something was incorrect or unfair on their contract. We welcome any ECR or PGR who is precariously employed to join our WhatsApp and Facebook organising groups.