All posts by Information Officer

Recent incidents of Violent Misogyny and Racism on Campus

Dear all,

It has come to our attention that a series of incidents involving appalling racist and sexist content posted by Warwick students in an online group chat has recently been made public on social media, and that this which has led to an ongoing university investigation and the suspension of eleven students.

As a branch, Warwick UCU is committed to defend the right of students and our members to study and work without fear of harassment, bullying, or discrimination on the grounds of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, or sexual orientation, in line with the Equality Act 2010. As such, we are deeply concerned with the situation, which we strongly condemn, and would like to extend our support to the students who were targeted by those comments and we also hope that a swift and thorough investigation of the incidents takes place.

We also understand this incident to be both a student issue and a workplace issue – it is unclear whether some of these threats were directed toward students or teachers and other staff members of the university, but it is clear that this affects us all. We see these leaked chats is a wake-up call that demands both immediate and long term action to change the culture of our campus.

This is far from being the first such incident on campus in recent years. We therefore think it is imperative that the danger of racist, sexist and homophobic abuse be frontally acknowledged as a challenge which is faced on a regular basis by both students and staff. We also feel that, in a situation where there is evidently a mounting backlash against diversity and inclusivity, it is important that university leaders eventually initiate a campus-wide discussion on the implications of such situations. Several elements of university policy – Home Office regulations targeting students on Tier 4 visas, the implications of Prevent strategy, and the threats to academic freedom posed by proposed changes to Statute 24 – make us deeply concerned that the overall climate on campus is becoming more conducive to the discriminatory targetting of students and staff in positions of structural vulnerability. All this needs to be discussed openly and honestly. While the immediate need of the moment is sustained support for the students targeted by this appalling recent incident, we feel that an open conversation on the defects in a university culture which allows for such situations to arise is urgently necessary.

We note that at Exeter University a similar incident occurred which led to the establishment of a new Commission to put forth recommendations on how to ensure harassment and discrimination don’t happen on campus or, if they happen, that they’re properly dealt with. This new commission, led by the Provost, includes student representatives (president of Students’ Guild and rep of the African-Caribbean Society), and staff from the Equality and Diversity team, Race Equality Group, Women’s/Athena SWAN group, LGBTQ+ staff network, disabled staff, HR, colleges’ Equality reps, including union reps. We would ask that Warwick University implement a similar process, with the SU and Warwick UCU, to do everything we can to stop incidents such as these from happening again in the future.

Yours sincerely,

Warwick UCU

UCU Warwick’s position on rescheduling teaching

As many of you saw first in the Vice Chancellor’s blog post (which we responded to here) and more recently on insite, the University has suggested that striking workers reschedule their teaching. It is both this branch and UCU national’s position that our members should not reschedule missed teaching, for the following reasons:

  • Rescheduling classes devalues the principle of industrial action undertaken by colleagues in a collective struggle that is still ongoing, despite present cessation of the strike (note that a strike mandate remains live through June 19, pending ratification of the current agreement from USS).
  • Rescheduling will necessarily be uneven, given the differing timetables and capacities of modules and staff concerned – hence any rescheduling that does take place exposes some colleagues to the charge of neglect of students, further undermining departmental relations and leading to potential discrimination.
  • Rescheduling has significantly different impact depending on module requirements and assessment patterns – for those with exams, there is greater pressure to reschedule in order to cover material that may appear on a paper, while for those modules that are 100% assessed, staff have in many cases been responding to student queries throughout the break as spring deadlines approach; the difference in impact means that some will be responsible for more make-up work than others, regardless of rates of compensation.
  • The offer to pay only striking colleagues who teach for rescheduling ignores – and discriminates against – all non-teaching colleagues who have taken strike action, including many academic-related staff; this contravenes the basic principle of union solidarity

Extraordinary General Meeting – April 19

The USS consultation closed last Friday and 64% of those returning ballots (in a turnout of 63%) voted to accept the UUK’s offer.

We will be holding a post-ballot Extraordinary General Meeting on Thursday 19th April, 12:00 – 13:30, in P5.21A/B Physics in order to discuss future developments and how we should respond as a branch.

As such the agenda is open but based around some of these questions (and structured as below) – how can we build on the strength of action showed during the USS strikes? How best to pursue the defence of our pensions? What are our other priorities for the coming period and how can we address these?

  1. What next? Following the ‘yes’ vote – timelines for UCU, UCU negotiators, the proposed joint expert panel etc.
  2. Developing the branch – Departmental Contacts, Caseworkers, Communications Strategy (for more information please see the all member email).
  3. Strike debrief, and preparation for potential future strike action.
  4. Pay deductions, incidences of pressure from HoD’s to reschedule and other strike breaking activities.

This is also an opportunity to bring forward Branch motions.

Update: We have received a member-led motion that we will circulate to all members asap.

Response to VCs Blog of April 3rd

In his blogpost of April 3rd, our Vice-Chancellor seeks to intervene in the UCU vote over industrial action by campaigning for acceptance of the UUK’s current proposal. He then outlines the University’s post-strike plans. Given the important role the VC has played in this dispute thus far, we feel it necessary to respond.

The post begins by announcing that “there is a clear agreement between UUK and UCU on a way forward over the pensions dispute.” Whilst we entirely sympathise with the desire to find a satisfactory resolution to this dispute – for our students, for the university, and for ourselves – at present, there is anything but a “clear agreement” on a way forward, and the VC’s attempt to influence the vote on the current UCU ballot is worrisome. The VC himself has emphasised that any solution needs to include a Defined Benefit pension and numerous experts have argued, including some on our own committee, that the offer as it stands will not guarantee the sustainable, Defined Benefit pension we’ve been striking for.

Second, we take exception to the notion that the UCU’s goal in taking strike action is to “prevent students from graduating.” Our goal throughout this action has been to prevent UUK from taking away our pensions. The UUK triggered this dispute by unilaterally devaluing our retirement provision; if they cared as much about the student experience as the VC suggests, they would act to end it quickly. Instead, their willingness to play politics with students’ futures was further revealed when they amended the conditions of their own offer, after the ballot was announced. It will take more than this kind of maneuvering to restore trust between employers and staff in what has been an unnecessarily prolonged dispute.

Furthermore, by trying to pit student interests against those of their teachers, librarians, and IT and office staff, the VC overlooks the extraordinary solidarity demonstrated by students in support of the strike. Students not only support their staff getting a fair and decent pension upon retirement, they recognise the hugely damaging impact the UUK’s proposals will have on the health of the sector as a whole. They have lived through (and suffered from) years of ruthless marketisation in education. Perceiving this dispute as just one symptom of a broken system, students and staff have come together in this action to demand an alternative model – one that does not treat students as consumers and universities as businesses.

Finally, we have serious concerns about the VC’s proposals for moving forward in the third term of this year should this dispute end. His proposal that, should the strike end, strike funds be returned to individual departments to tempt strikers back into the fold, so that deductions become an incentive to top up the salaries of those who reschedule teaching or otherwise “enhance the student experience,” is deeply problematic. We have been arguing throughout our action that all deducted wages should be given to a Student Hardship Fund, as has been echoed by the Students’ Union, because we believe that the money we have lost fighting the UUK’s campaign to degrade our benefits should go to the most vulnerable among us. This plan attacks the basic tenet of collective responsibility and principled sacrifice. Moreover, it threatens to exacerbate the deep inequalities among staff and across departments at Warwick, whereby those with the most to lose, including casualised and sessional tutors, are preemptively targeted on the basis of their vulnerability to any further pay deductions; and it ignores the sacrifices made by UCU members in non-academic departments, who will not see their deductions passed on to students at all.

Again, the VC appears to have missed the exceptional level of support for our action among the most precariously employed members of the university community. His blogpost fails to register the extent to which doctoral students, contract teachers and junior or early career colleagues have been striking in support of their – and our – collective future in higher education. The difference between a vision of this future as privatised, monetised and competitively administered, vs. one that is public, collaborative and academically led, has never appeared so stark. We hope that, whatever the result of the ballot, all members of the Warwick community will continue to work together toward achieving the latter outcome.

Warwick UCU Committee

ASOS FAQ

Action Short of Strike (ASOS) Q&A

As we return back to work, we’ve been receiving a number of questions about what it actually means to carry out action short of strike (ASOS). In response to these queries, we have developed an ASOS FAQ / Q&A covering the following areas:

  1. What does ASOS mean?
  2. Does ASOS imply breach of contract and if so, what does that mean?
  3. What is Warwick’s current position regarding ASOS Pay Deductions?
  4. What specifically is working to contract and what does that look like?
  5. What does ASOS and working to contract look like for workers on hourly paid contracts (VAM / STP)?
  6. What does this all mean on the ground?

It is a work in progress, so please check with us regularly and let us know if you have any further questions and/ or queries.

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.

Open letter to our students – what happens next?

Dear Students,

You may have heard that on Monday 12th March an ‘agreement’ was reached between UCU and UUK to end ongoing dispute over the USS pensions reforms and this was then rejected by thousands of university staff, including many here at Warwick.

These staff, having already taken strike action all over the UK during the last four weeks, voted in large numbers, and almost unanimously, to reject the offer and we imagine this is both confusing and raises many concerns and questions for students, and are writing to address them here.

There are many reasons that we rejected the UUK’s offer, but the bottom-line is that it didn’t address the reason we went on strike: to secure a long-term future for a defined benefits pension scheme. The offer amounted to a substantial reduction in our pensions income; it was predicated on inappropriate assumptions (which even Warwick’s own Vice Chancellor has criticised) that cuts are necessary to fix a ‘deficit’ in pension funds; and it was a three year deal, at the end of which we would likely be facing another round of attempted cuts.

It is for these and other reasons that UCU members all across the country rejected this ‘offer’ and pushed for a better outcome. As a result of this democratic action, the UCU rejected the offer at the national level in favour of continued strike action, possibly including 14 further days of strike action in Term 3, during which we will continue to go unpaid in a fight for what we believe is fair and in the best interests of UK Higher Education.

It is not with a light heart that we have taken the decision to say no to this offer leaving us with the prospect of continuing with strike action. We know that not only does this means a continued negative impact on the learning of our students but it also puts many of us at great financial risk and, in some cases, risk of deportation. But we also know how high the stakes of this struggle are. This is a national test case. If we capitulate, we don’t just lose our pensions, but possibly guaranteed pensions across the UK. And, more importantly, if we capitulate on our pensions, we are also capitulating to the financialised and privatised university of soaring tuition fees, casualised staff, and intensified marketisation; and, we are capitulating to the idea that workers are not entitled to economic security, or indeed to a life after work.

We are doing everything we can to ensure this dispute doesn’t go into term 3 and it is already working. UUK have called for a new round of negotiations and we believe if we keep the pressure up, this dispute can be resolved. Thank you for your continued support. We believe that if students join their voices to ours, we will be able to defend our pensions and end this dispute quickly, to everyone’s best interest, before Term 3 commences.

Warwick UCU

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’.