I hurried to class on a Tuesday morning for a practical session for my Neuroscience class. From a few hundred meters away, I see that there is a picket line in front of the stone stairs. I contemplated walking around to get in from another entrance, but decided that with 3 minutes to spare, I should go the quickest route. As expected, I got stopped at the “official picket line” and was told that I should stand in solidarity with the professors and go back home. I tried to explain that I have a practical to attend, and I have to go. The person pushed further and said, “So, your professors did not cancel class?” I stood in silence for a few seconds, contemplating the weird question. Finally, I stood my ground and attended class. But, I did help sign their petition to prevent the University president from using professors’ unpaid salaries to finance new infrastructures on campus.
So what exactly is happening in UK universities?
In simple terms, Universities UK (UUK) proposed to end the benefits of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pension scheme. University and College Union (UCU) announced to strike 14 days at 61 universities throughout the UK. This pension cut would leave a typical lecturer almost £10,000 a year less in retirement. On strike days, professors can decide to cancel their lecture. However, professors would not get paid for any lectures they did not give.
All of my classes have been significantly affected by the strike. Professors have emailed that they were extremely sorry they could not teach their favorite topics to us, but due to how severe the impact is to their future, most supported the strike. Even though they were not paid for the lectures they did not give, it was more beneficial for them to lose the few hundred in favor of the thousands of pounds they would be fairly compensated in retirement.
In addition to the proposed pension cut, the new vice chancellor of University of Edinburgh was awarded the highest salary ever in Scotland history. This made no sense whatsoever, and many students and professors showed their disapproval through petitions, banners, and memes.
This is my first experience with strikes. The UK is known for forming one of the earliest industrial unions. From this experience, I see how determined and passionate a group of people can be in working together to achieve a common goal. Throughout the strikes, the UUK proposed a new plan, but was eventually turned down by the UCU. It is interesting to see direct change and ongoing negotiations from the public voicing their concerns. In the US, labour unions are decreasing in strength due to various factors, such as decrease in American industries and rise in globalization, and this had made strikes rare. Furthermore, some countries don’t even allow strikes.