Day 6: Money (That’s What I Want)

“The best things in life are free
But you can give them to the birds and bees
I want money
That’s what I want
That’s what I want
That’s what I want”

Today was another great day on the picket line. The sun was shining and a Motown and Soul playlist kept everyone bopping.

Today’s picket was graciously sponsored by our members from the Philosophy Department and Professional Services from across the University.

We were also joined by Felix Ling, the Labour candidate for Stratford.

We also played the Gender Pay Gap game designed by our member Ninna. Unsurprisingly, the men won!

And speaking of games, our chalk game was seriously on point.

We also continued the production of our #unistories.

As always, we spent time with good friends, old and new!

All in all a good picket! We’re building up for a strong early morning picket tomorrow (8-11) and our best turnout yet on Wednesday (10-1:30)!

WHEN THEY SAY CUT BACK, WE SAY FIGHT BACK!

 

Day 3: #Unistory, Kashmir, and lots more rain

What a day! 

The rain may not have let up, but neither did we, as the picket line continued to grow with faces new and old. Today’s picket line was adopted by PAIS and Modern Languages, which both had great showings of people, camaraderie and food.

We had an important teachout on why the situation in Kashmir is an issue for us in the UK.

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We also launched #unistory, an amazing arts project developed by artist, activist and student Julie Saumagne, where staff and students write their stories and experiences of the marketised, corporatised university, and explain why they are striking or support the strike. Add your own story when you come down to the picket line and check out our twitter feed to watch as the project unfolds. 

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Finally, we said good-bye to our beloved president, Duncan, who is off to start a new job next week. He will be sorely missed.

See you all on the picket line bright and early tomorrow morning!

Warwick Anticasualisation Rally

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.

Strike FAQ for Warwick students

This is information for all Warwick students who would like to know more about why lecturers, librarians, IT and other professional service staff at Warwick are taking industrial action.

For a PDF version click here.


What is the strike about
What is it we want? What would constitute a win?
Why should students care?
How does industrial action affect you?
How can Warwick students help?


What is the strike about? 

There are two reasons why we are striking:  
  • First, to protect staff pensions, which are under renewed attack after the 2018 dispute.
  • Second, to fight for the rights of casualised, female and BAME staff. Growing numbers of staff are working on short-term or precarious contracts that don’t pay them enough to make ends meet. There is also a persistent gender and racial pay gap. This means that at Warwick, for instance, women earn 74p for every £1 earned by men and BAME staff are paid an average of 25% less than their white colleagues. This action is about stopping the downgrading of pensions, ending casualisation and closing the gender and racial pay gap.

UCU Strikes Summary (PDF slides)

What is it we want? What would constitute a win? 

Our demands are simple:
  • Protect staff pensions so that we can retire without facing poverty;
  • Pay a £10/hour minimum rate for directly employed staff, and commit to the Living Wage Foundation’s pay rates for the lowest paid on campus;
  • Agree to develop a programme to close the gender and BAME pay gap; 
  • Agree to create a framework to eliminate precarious employment and to tackle rising workloads;
  • Ensure that staff pay keeps up with inflation (salaries have fallen 20% on average over the past decade)

These demands are easy to meet. We’re asking UUK (Universities UK, the association of university employers) to work with us to end the rampant levels of inequality in our workplaces and to make sure that people can actually afford to live on the pay for the jobs they do.

Why should students care? 

We know that you have incurred a large debt to attend university. Many of us fought hard against the meteoric rise of tuition fees. But the high fees you pay are not used to pay more to those who teach you. Gaps in gender and BAME pay, casualisation of staff and erosion of staff pensions are part of a decade-long assault on the integrity of universities as public institutions. As a result, we’ve seen the tripling of student fees, a trend toward short-term or sessional contracts at the expense of secure employment, the greater use of outsourcing models  and the ballooning of managerial pay – and with these developments, the persistence of racist and sexist cultures at our university.  

If we want an environment committed to fairness and transparency, where teaching, learning and research – not profit – are at the heart of what we do, then we must collectively take a stand.

How does industrial action affect you? 

Teaching and working with students is why we do this job, so we do not take strike action lightly, any more than nurses or doctors do. After eight days of strikes in November and December 2019, the UCU has called for fourteen more days of strikes in February and March: February 20-21, February 24-26, March 2-5 and March 9-13. On these days:

  • UCU members won’t be teaching, holding office hours, marking or answering emails
  • Any work missed, including teaching, will not be rescheduled
  • Since December 4th, UCU members have been observing action short of a strike (ASOS): this means working to contract, or working only the 36.5 hours per week stipulated in our contracts (most academics work 60+ hours, including weekends)

How can Warwick students help? 

In partnership with Warwick’s Student-Staff Solidarity Network, we will be holding a series of themed events on the picket lines, giving you a chance to join discussions about fees, debt, the future of work and radical alternatives to the status quo. We want you to be part of these activities. Join us! As Emma Goldman almost says, “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be in your demonstration.”

Warwick Students Union voted to support the strikes – as individuals you can too.

If you want to help us stop hugely damaging changes to higher education, here are some ideas:

Remember: the more people support the strike, and the more unified that support, the sooner it’s likely to end.

With that in mind, please:

  • Boycott lectures and seminars on strike days – do not cross the picket line!
  • Join us as sympathetic onlookers/active supporters
  • Help organise alternative student-led events
  • Get in touch with any questions

Solidarity for all – together we can win this!

Day 14 Strike for Pensions

And we’ve made it – undiminished in strength and more unified than at the start, we are now at Day 14 of the strikes.

To celebrate this, we held an awards ceremony with some fabulous (or at least appropriate) prizes!

Here is our fabulous compere, Leon, announcing the winners.

Arianna was presented with her ‘halls throat sweets’ in honour of her sterling work on the microphone leading chants for the last few weeks!

And of course, the winner of ‘Best picket dog’, the fabulous Quince.

Some fantastic renditions of some old favourites:

‘See you on the picket line’ (to the tune of ‘Hit me baby (one more time)’ by Britney Spears

‘We need a pension’ (to the tune of ‘I need a hero’ by Bonnie Tyler)

A stirring speech from a retired UCU member warning of the risks and exhorting members to keep up the fight for everyones future.

And Claire, as picket supervisor, summed up what we were all thinking.

Thank you to all our members who stuck it out throughout the 14 days, in wind, rain and snow.

#solidarity #NoCapitulation #USSStrikes

Day 13 Strike for Pensions

We started small and determined on a cold morning, spread out across Gibbett Hill, Westwood, and University House and grew large and mighty with a concluding rally at the bus interchange in the much needed sun!

University House

Westwood

Bus Interchange

The turning point was most certainly the amazing cheese and cheese and ham pancakes that a member brought at 9am, which revitalised us all!
We’ve long been saying this strike isn’t just about what happens on the picket line, but all of the other sites of organising that have occurred: from the free University which has carried out 4 weeks of stellar events, to the departments who have been organising play lists, events, and themed days together, to the unprecedented mass all-members meetings we’ve had throughout.
Today was an especially good example of that. Following the demo, one members led a walking tour called “Mapping Corporate Walk: A Walking Tour.”
Meanwhile , UCU regional led a well-attended caseworker training session we had a departmental contact meeting, and we had an amazing departmental contact meeting.
Not bad for day 13.

Day 12 Strike for Pensions

Another cold morning, but with another strong turnout at the picket lines. Lots of questions today following the extraordinary events of yesterday and luckily we had just the people to answer them!

However, first we were joined by the Chair of the South Warwickshire Keep our NHS Public who spoke extensively on the challenges they face on protecting our local NHS services and the risks that are currently in play.  Please support them as much as you can, these service are essential.

And then the big hitters arrived!

Myka, Branch Secretary, and Justine Mercer, Branch President and Midlands HEC representative, spoke about the HEC meeting yesterday – an event that was described as ‘electified’ by Myka who talked about how the voting across the country had supported the branch reps, and HEC members to  to reject the current offer.

And what was more amazing, is that we were joined by members new to the picket who had been to the meetings, felt the #solidarity and were now more engaged than ever before.  So the message we want to send is that we are still here, we are still engaged and enraged, and we will not stop until proper deal is ‘on the table’.

Day 11 Strike for Pensions

Plans never survive contact with the project manager, or however the saying goes. Full disclaimer, the writer has a Prince 2 qualification.

Yesterday afternoon we were stunned to receive a message that indicated whilst UCU and UUK had reached an agreement, it was one that had profoundly negative implications for members and for future industrial action.

Late night discussions, both in branch, and nationally, showed a deep disquiet, and disbelief, in what was on offer. Essentially, UCU and UUK were proposing a pension deal similar to, but arguably worse, than the ‘offer’ rejected 3 years ago. In addition, the UCU leadership caused consternation for teaching staff members by promising they would reschedule lectures, that they would then be doing for free having already had pay deducted.

Instead of meeting at 7:30, picketing was postponed, and an emergency all Member meeting was called for 10:00 with less than 12 hours notice.

Nevertheless, over 120 members attended and gave excellent feedback, speaking forcefully and eloquently to the proposed deal.

A presentation featuring some (by necessity, with only 18 hours between the offer being presented and the HEC vote taking place, hastily overnight researched and created) slides to illustrate the offer was presented by a member of the UCU committe (and uploaded here as per requests from members). Slide 3 of the presentation contains a useful comparison of the existing and proposed deal.

It was the opinion of many speakers that each and every line indicated a drop in pension value and were all similarly unacceptable red lines.

At the end a vote was taken, and 115 voted to reject the offer, with only 5 abstentions and this was communicated to our union rep and HEC rep in London.

Scenes in London were astonishing, with 800 UCU members crammed into the street outside UCUs offices calling for the deal to be rejected.

Meanwhile, at Warwick, we continued our picket in solidarity and wondering what the outcome of the HEC meeting would be.

Reports were coming in of other branches voting to reject the offer, many unanimously. Their representatives voted accordingly.

The HEC then voted and the deal on the table was rejected. 

Feedback from people present at the meeting clearly indicates how the vote was moved by the action of the members, and the very clear rejection that was sent from more than 40 emergency member meetings across the country.

Sally Hunt emailed all members to say that:

“The overwhelming view of branches was that while the proposal retained defined benefit it did so at too low a level (only the first £42,000 of salary) and that the proposed reduction in accrual rate was also unacceptable. Branches were also clear that the refusal of the employers to shift their position on taking more risk was disappointing.

Today’s decision means that:

  • the union will not now attend the USS JNC tomorrow to endorse the ACAS proposal,
  • the strike action called for this week will continue and the union will now make detailed preparations for fourteen days of strikes in the assessment and exam season,
  • members who are external examiners at USS institutions will be asked to consider their position with a view to putting pressure upon the assessment season,
  • the action short of a strike (ASOS) including the refusal to reschedule lectures or classes will remain in place.”

 

Day 10 Strike for Pensions

‘There will be some light rain this morning.’

Despite this, what turned out to be a little understated, weather message, we convened again for our 10th day of pension change protests this morning.

With UUK and UCU emerging their 6th day of ACAS mediated negotiations, it is important that we keep up the pressure nationally.

But my word, it was very very wet!

We kept the tea flowing from our minimalist gazebo to keep spirits up – vitally important on a cold soggy morning, especially as someone forgot to charge the loudspeaker seriously hampering our dancing and chanting!

Despite the horrible weather, there was a pretty good turnout, although we understand completely that some people were picketing from the comfort of their living rooms.

But here are the hardy perennials being well watered:

And thankfully, we managed to charge the sound system and got off a few chants.

Day 9 Strike for Pensions

A rainy start to the morning saw us setting up under a marquee, well supplied with hot drinks and pastries, ready to celebrate all the amazing women in Universities and worldwide for the Women’s Strike and International Women’s Day.

The women’s picket choir was in fine voice, singing those classics such as ‘girls just wanna have pensions’.

There were displays reminding people of the emotional and reproductive workloads that women routinely undertake which are completely overlooked in terms of salary, promotion and workload models.

We stood in solidarity with the women of Yarlswood who are on hunger strike.

Today was about protest, about women, about rights. About fairness. And about pensions of course. The proposed pension changes will disproportionately impact women (as has the move to career average already).

#womenwhoinspire #iwd2018