Last week, many academics in the U.K. went on strike. I decided not to cross the picket line, even virtually, in support of the strike. As I explained on Twitter, many of our contributors and readers come from the U.K. — and two of our editors (Laurence Totelin and I) are members of the striking University and College Union.
The issue behind the UCU strike is pensions. University employers want to end guaranteed pensions and reduce retirement income for all. This is a substantial problem. For example, my own pension income will be reduced by about 50%. While Universities UK (representatives of the universities) would suggest that our Universities Superannuation Scheme is a benefit, and thus subject to cuts, the reality of paying into a pension is quite different: it is delayed payment.
— Carl Gombrich (@carlgomb) February 22, 2018
Pensions, I know, can seem a bit of a niche dispute to those uninvolved. In this case, however, they are the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Our pay, to be sure, isn’t great–and in real terms, has been declining.
Basically, universities run on goodwill. Although we are contracted to work roughly 35-38 hours per week (depending on university), nearly all of us work substantially more than that on a weekly basis. The metrics of REF (Research Excellence Framework) and TEF (Teaching Excellence Framework) alone mean that we never have enough time to do our work in the time allotted.
This is not because of our inefficiency, but because the workload allocations in place do not allow for the real number of hours required for our regular activities like grading, lecture-writing, pastoral care of students, endless admin reports. Our research and writing is required for the REF and our promotion and permanency applications, but often occurs on our own time in weekends and evenings out of necessity.
Other activities like blogging also occur beyond our official workload. Here at The Recipes Project, the editors and contributors enjoy our research and conversations about recipes. But our work is unpaid and unrecognised by workplace metrics–like so much of our unseen academic labour.
This isn’t a complaint. You see, we love what we do: we really do. And the system depends on our love. But the pension cuts undermine our goodwill. And it is this that is integral to our willingness to work above and beyond for the sake of education.
But what is at stake here is so much better than pensions or pay. This is part of a wider conversation about the marketization of the university sector, with its use of precarious labour rather than permanent positions; its insistence that students are consumers; its willingness to invest in more buildings rather than its employees; its treatment of universities as businesses rather than a public good.
We believe that universities are a public good. And in solidarity with the strikers, our usual programming here at The Recipes Project will be disrupted throughout the strike. We will not be crossing the picket line, even virtually.
For more on the strike, see just a few examples below. I can’t keep up with all the links!