No strike actions at LSE and KCL
The UCU strikes ended today. Since 25 November, 60 UK universities have seen approximately 4,000 of their staff members taking part in strike action. 79% of UCU members voted in favour of strike action over pension plans, echoing the sentiment that kick-started the February 2018 UCU strikes with the “union estimating that changes to the pension could leave lecturers about £240,000 worse off in retirement”. Additionally, 74% of union members voted in favour of striking with regards to pay conditions and workload, indicating that “the pay of staff has dropped by around 17% in real terms since 2009″. London universities participating in the strike action include University College London, City University, Goldsmiths, Queen Mary and Royal Holloway.
On 28 November, UCU’s general secretary, Jo Grady, updated striking union members with the news that there were “signs the action is having an effect’ in terms of employers being willing to discuss ‘equality, job security and workload”. The UCU also commented that they had received over 3,500 applications from workers seeking to join the union since the strike actions began. However, the UCU have not ruled out the possibility of further action, believing that ‘sustained well-organised industrial action works and makes employers realise [UCU] is not backing down’. 13 universities, including Imperial College London and SOAS, are due to be balloted in the next few weeks, to determine if they will be participating in strike action after Christmas. Two London universities remain notably absent, both from the current wave of strike action as well as the indications of future ballots: London School of Economics (LSE) and King’s College London (KCL).
40.26% of eligible LSE-UCU members were balloted with 85.94% of those members voting favorably for strike action. According to LSE-UCU chair Vikas Chandra, as the necessary threshold of 50% of those eligible to vote was not met, LSE were not able to take part in the strike. In 2018 as well, LSE was one of the few London universities where staff members did not partake in strike action with 46.3% of eligible members choosing to cast a vote. On the LSE campus, very few indicators of any UCU or picketing paraphernalia are to be seen. LSE-UCU’s Twitter page has not been active since June 2018, while the last post on the LSE-UCU Facebook page was in October 2017.
Multiple LSE students indicated they were unaware that strike action had been happening over the past few days at all. One student, who wished to remain anonymous, commented that they had seen a proliferation of posters and news stories covering Black Bloc Day (the LSE Student Alliance for Hong Kong showing solidarity with student protestors) and climate change protests but had heard very little about the UCU strikes from lecturers or academic staff members. Another explained that she had been unaware of the UCU strikes until she had seen some striking academics joining forces with climate change activists outside Holborn station. UCU recommends that colleagues at institutions that voted not to strike show their solidarity by using #ucustrike on social media platforms.
Danielle Desouza, a Masters student at LSE, said she felt sympathy for the striking academics in their pushback against their employers but felt students were being used as “bargaining chips”, losing out on crucial contact hours right before January assessments. UCU strike guidelines lay out rules that union members “should not do any work for all of the days specified by the union… they should also refuse to reschedule activities or share materials that would have been covered in class or lecture”.
Meanwhile, KCL narrowly missed participating in strike action with a “turnout of 48.49% and 48.71% of union members voting in ballots for pensions and pay respectively”. Dr. Stan Papoulias, a KCL-UCU representative, notes that ‘administrative issues’ may have factored into the near miss for strike actions attributing the difficulty of maintaining an “up-to-date database” to the rise of ‘casualised, short-term contracts’. In 2018, KCL was faced with criticism from a student-led campaign group ‘Refund Our Fees’ which demanded that KCL give students a refund for every day their academics were striking. Ultimately, KCL announced that all “salary savings would be ring-fenced as a fund to offset the impact of the strike on the students”.
Photography Credit: Emma Halahan