Warwick UCU’s Letter to Stuart Croft Regarding COVID-19

Warwick UCU has sent the following letter to the Vice Chancellor, Stuart Croft, demanding that he take action to ensure the health and safety of staff and students at Warwick.

Dear Stuart,

Warwick UCU are writing regarding the outbreak of COVID-19. In light of the government’s wholly inadequate response to this crisis, we ask that the University ensure the following to enable the safety of staff and students:

– that the University immediately stop all non-essential, campus-based work so that we prevent the unnecessary spreading of the virus;
– that the University ensure that there is no loss of pay to any member of staff as a result of virus-related closures or isolation, regardless of contract type or visa status;
– that the University engage closely with campus trade unions to ensure that decisions taken regarding the the virus have the support of staff.

We are also very concerned about the ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic is being used to victimise the Asian community in this country, and ask that the University join us in producing a statement showing solidarity with all those facing an escalation in racial discrimination.

Warwick UCU

Day 8: Throwing Down Science on the Picketline

Well, at 7 degrees and occasionally drizzling we were feeling the weather love today.

Our teach out, “Dealing with Climate Denial and Discombobulation (Climate Strike Warm Up)” opened with our fabulous Caseworker Coordinator and Vice-Chair, Alastair Smith, reminding us that it is indeed our University and that it is us – students and workers – whose campaigning and lobbying pressured the University to declare a climate emergency (as also discussed in his comment on the VC’s recent Green Week blog). So it’s fitting that student groups as well as our local Warwick & Leamington Labour MP pulled out of an official university-backed climate emergency panel that would have required participants to cross the picket line, forcing the university to postpone the event. If the university wants to be recognised for taking serious environmental action, it will also need to recognise the campus environment created by precarity, threatened pensions, frozen wages and the gender and BME pay gap. Managerialism will never solve a crisis created by managerialism!

This panel, co-run with GSD student Todd Olive, debunked the climate deniers and threw down some scary truths about climate change.

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And speaking of science, our picketers by the campus roundabout carried out some science of their own. In a highly rigorous study of driveby solidarity, they determined that in just 10 minutes over 20 solidarity honks were delivered!  Between that and our solidari-biscuits, we are feeling the love!

The day ended with a fabulous discussion of feminist traditions in the UK, US and Europe.

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In case the administration hasn’t yet got the message, this action remains fierce, determined and strong, taking inspiration from those feminist forebears.

Day 7: They say casualise….We say organise!!!

Today we had live protest songs on our Westwood picket (!!) and a good turnout for our early pickets despite the best efforts of the rain and traffic.

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The theme of the day was precarity and precarious workers, and we had three teach-outs led by Warwick Anti-Casualisation. First up was a teachout on Governing Through Precarity, which used examples from Foucault’s philosophy to illustrate how precarious working conditions are a foundation of neoliberalism – not simply, as is often claimed, a money-saving exercise dictated by markets – and how our agency is constrained by the systems we must work within when choosing an academic career. Katja Laug talked about the main issues for precarious workers as identified by UCU, and gave examples from the lived experience of precarious workers at Warwick, including her own.

We then moved to The Graduate, where a panel of precarious workers shared their own experiences, covering a range of obstacles to pursuing an academic career: covering childcare costs as a PhD student, completing an unfunded PhD while working full time, the impact of casual, poorly-recorded labour on visas for international staff, being treated as a less visible or valuable member of one’s department, fixed-term contracts and the reliance on what amounts to academic patronage for success as an early career researcher. Thank you to all for sharing your stories and solidarity. We also heard some disappointing statistics on the numbers of staff on fixed-term contracts, as well as how UCEA first promised to offer most staff permanent contracts in 2002, and have now set essentially the same target in 2020 as part of their latest offer. WAC are looking for new members to join their activist group – solidarity from staff on permanent contracts is welcome.
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Finally, students from the Warwick Anti Racism Society led a discussion on prison abolition, touching on issues around alternatives to punishment and carceral “justice” and the intersections between race, gender, class and the prison industrial complex. We heard perspectives on how states use prisons to stifle dissent in Africa and the Middle East, as well as the role of prison abolition in achieving racial justice in the UK. We also discussed some strategies for moving past our current models of policing and dividing bodies into ‘deserving’ and ‘other.’ It was a great and inspiring discussion, and we look forward to hearing more from the students involved – working with young people like you makes it all worth it!

Day 6: Building the shadow university (in full sun)

Week 3 of our action began with cold temps but welcome sun. We were joined by comrades from Coventry TUC, bringing both moral and material support:


Continuing the tradition of teach-outs on the picket line, Rebecca Brown (outgoing SU Environment and Ethics Officer) chaired a panel titled “Decolonisation/Decarbonisation,” on the necessary links between social and climate justice action. Featuring speakers that included newly elected SU officers and Coventry MP Zarah Sultana, the session drove home the need to attend to climate breakdown in both global and local terms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Naomi Waltham-Smith then gave a rousing talk on the role of listening in political education:


We might think of activities like these as aspects of the shadow university – not the university represented in official brochures and PR, but the university that comes into being through the expertise, dedication and commitment of those participating in this strike to improve working conditions for all of us.

Thanks, as ever, to student and staff stalwarts on the line:

 

 

 


As we continue with the week’s picket schedule, remember that with this action we are holding the line against immensely destructive practices imposed by HE officials across the country. Let’s continue to show them whose university this really is.

 

Day 5: All the Weather for International Solidarity Day

We had a great turnout for Day Five, which we marked as International Solidarity Day. There were some fabulous banners and placards, and we made the most of a few delightfully sunny moments to assemble for a round of invigorating chants:

We had an inspiring teachout – “Patients Not Passports” – on the history of migrant charges in the NHS and the ongoing battle against point-of-care charges (and indeed, “built-in” immigrant charges).

Many thanks to Laura Schwartz and Roberta Bivins (History) for providing some useful and interesting context as well as clear actions we can take to support a truly free and universal NHS.

We also benefited from an excellent teachout on multilingualism from Richard Smith and Carolin Debray, colleagues in Applied Linguistics, in which the impressive range of languages spoken by UCU members was on display.

Finally, many thanks to Film and Television Studies for adopting today’s picket, and for bringing along morale-boosting small comrades (with two legs and four):

We’re back at work Thursday and Friday, but don’t forget to keep those warm clothes ready for a four-day walkout next week, starting with a 10am-1pm picket on Monday.

Solidarity forever!

Day 4: Sunshine, Laughter, Anti-Racism

Today was another excellent day on the picket line! Fortunately, the weather gods smiled on us, and we finally got some sun and blue sky.

We were delighted to have the company of Aisghair, a beautiful, and very enthusiastic, dog.

First, we congregated at the bus interchange, picked up materials (and, crucially, donuts) and dispersed to picket at various campus entrances.

We returned to the interchange a couple of hours later, for a session of laughter yoga led by Nese Ceren. This involved imagining ourselves in a number of different scenarios, such as having a funny conversation on the phone; being in an argument; and dragging a heavy bag while attempting to catch a train.

We spent plenty of time laughing at each other, as well as at ourselves: a refreshing change from a regular day at a university!

After a bit more chanting (“They say casualise / We say organise!”), we closed the picket for the day.

Later we went to The Graduate for a timely teach out titled “Anti-Chinese racism at Warwick: contagious even when apparently asymptomatic?” This gave us the opportunity to have an important conversation about Sinophobia, and the ways in which it is intertwined with current anxieties to do with the coronavirus.

Looking forward to seeing you again tomorrow. It looks set to be a busy, but fun, day. We’re meeting at the bus loop at 10am, and picketing in various locations. There are two teach outs: one called “Patients not passports”, on the policing of the NHS, led by historians Laura Schwartz and Roberta Bivins; the second, “Let’s get multilingual!”, is led by Carolin Debray and Richard Smith from Applied Linguistics. Finally, there’s the International Solidarity March, which starts at 1.30 on the piazza.

Solidarity!

Day 3: Listen to that wind…!

 

The weather wasn’t our friend last week and it wasn’t today! We really put the tent and our brand-new PA system through their paces when a particularly anti-union gust caused a little chaos. Still, we had a solid and energetic crowd of picketers and supporters (as always, it’s so wonderful to see students out on the line asking questions and showing solidarity).  Special thanks to Hispanic and French Studies for holding down the fort, and to Carrie Benjamin for emcee’ing the Social Strike Game.

Day 3 Pickets

Braving the wind and rain, a hardy group returns from the roundabout for some feel-good chanting:

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And Warwick was proudly represented at the UCEA negotiation picket too! Hope you folks were drier than we were:

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See you all on the line tomorrow. We’re picketing car parks from 8-10 and reuniting at the Interchange from 10-11. Meet up at the Interchange at 8 before we head out to various locations. Dress warmly and bring all your positive energy to help get colleagues to join the strike.

Solidarity forever!

Day 2: Online, on the line

A gusty day 2, but without the rain, saw visitors arriving at the picket line from the wind’s four quarters – local MPs, postal workers, UNITE and writers from Boston (Boston, USA, that is).

Zarah Sultana, recently elected MP for Coventry South, spoke of the need to continue standing up for workers’ rights in the current challenging environment.

Annette Ash from Warwick Estates and UNITE lent cross-union support, while representatives of the Communications Workers Union expressed solidarity from the midst of their own ongoing struggle with Royal Mail – which, like UCU’s, involves not just pay but the overall direction of the company, failure to uphold national agreements and the culture of the workplace.

And picketers gathered by the purple tent to hear Boston-based Nicole Aschoff, writer for Jacobin magazine and author of forthcoming book The Smartphone Society, lead a bracing teachout on changes in the political environment enabled by smartphone use. Carrying both promise and peril, social media extend and complicate the scope of political organizing, but at the same time – the audience seemed to agree – can’t substitute for the live presence of bodies on the line.

Here’s to Week 2 of our action, then – see you all then!

Day 1: Same Bad Weather, Same Fighting Spirit

Well, the UUK/UCEA weather gods really showed their wrath today as over 100 staff and students braved the winds and rain to make clear that we are not giving up until we’ve secured our pensions, and made our jobs safe, secure, and equitable.

We had a fabulous opening rally with speakers from Warwick Anti-Casualisation, the Professional Services Staff, Working Group, Warwick Anti-Casualisation, Warwick Occupy, and Warwick Labour.

 

 

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We then relaunched our amazing #unistories project by replanting them in the ground near our picketline. These stories are at the heart of our picket, telling the stories of how the marketised university is hurting staff and students. These are our stories and they are the stories of why we fight.

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Having shown the weather gods that we’re not afraid of a few gale force winds and rain, we ended the day with two amazing teach outs in a packed (and thankfully cosy) house. First, our amazing colleagues from law used an umbrella to explain the securitising of student debt and gave an amazing history of the Trade Union Act.

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This was followed up by a collective envisioning of the University we could have and the University we are fighting for. We’ll look forward to seeing you all tomorrow!