A view from an Engineering picket line

This is the third post in our series about the UCU Strike, and is a guest post from Eleanor Blair.  Eleanor is a Computer Officer and UCU Rep at Cambridge University Engineering Department. She tweets everything from strikes to cycling activism via intersectional feminism and parenting at @lnr_blair

Earlier this week I was asked if I’d mind saying a few words about why I was on strike by my local branch.

lnr2“Firstly, I’m on strike because I’m a member of the union, and the union has voted to be on strike. As far as I’m concerned, that’s what you do. It’s what unions do.

Secondly, I did actually vote for the strike because I think that all of the things we’re fighting on are very important. People in the university are very much overworked.

Graduates and post-docs are doing very casualised teaching. The whole foundation of the supervision system is held up by people on hourly-paid contracts who are not necessarily being paid for any of the preparation work they’re doing. They do it because it helps their career and because it’s the right thing to do, but they still should be paid for it properly. Work needs to be not casualised because people need to be able to live. Pay needs to keep up with inflation rather than falling behind.

Pensions, which are deferred pay, need to be able to support us in the future. The USS board of trustees is simply ignoring the first report of the Joint Expert Panel and saying they’re going to wait for the second report. It’s not good enough that they’re still going to make changes to our pensions. At this point they should take what the Joint Expert Panel said on board and actually do something with it.

Our dispute is with the university but we need the university to go and negotiate on our behalf, with the UUK, with UCEA, to make sure that our demands on pay, pensions, equality – the gender pay gap in this university is extreme, it’s ridiculous – and workload are heard. The only way to make sure we’re heard is to be here on the picket line.”


What I said remains true – and I’m happy to be out there – but boy is our department a tough gig!

Despite some of the faculty being UCU members I’m not aware of any of the lectures being cancelled this time round, and a lot of the work students do in labs is considered compulsory – so students are doubly reluctant to observe the picket lines.

Those of us who are “local” on the picket (IT staff, graduate students who also teach, early career researchers) are being joined by staff and students from other departments who find it very discouraging in comparison to other picket lines. We do our best to keep spirits up. Getting someone to accept a flyer or sticker feels like a victory. I’ve even encouraged a few people just to use the back entrance if they need to come in.

But I still feel it’s worthwhile us being there. We support each other – and we are visible reminder that we *are* on strike and that everyone in the university is affected in some way. I was back on the picket line today.

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