From 25 November to 4 December, members of the UCU will be striking. This isn’t just your lecturers, but also librarians, IT and administration professionals who are taking part. They are striking on a variety of issues, including the topic of pension that led to strike action back in 2018. However, the strike action is also over falling pay, the gender and ethnic pay gap, precarious employment practices, and unsafe workloads. I understand that some students may have to attend classes due to pressures surrounding compulsory contact hours, personal wellbeing, and international student requirements. However, if you are in a privileged position and wish to support University staff on strike, here is some more information on how to show solidarity.
Write to the Vice-Chancellor
The strike action is a last resort pressure to go back to the negotiation table to create fairer working conditions for University staff. To help pressure those who can call for a negotiation, students contacting senior management helps. The UCU have created a model template and a tool to directly e-mail your Vice-Chancellor (Professor Steve Smith for University of Exeter). It takes two minutes but adds another letter in the inbox.
Do Not Cross the Picket Line
You can show solidarity with the strikers by not crossing the picket line. The picket line is not necessarily a physical thing (although you will see staff and students holding placards and handing out leaflets at various entrances) but is also symbolic. This entails not going on to campus at all and particularly not entering University buildings or buying goods from University outlets (e.g. – Pret A Manger or Marketplace). It also means not sending e-mails to your lecturers for academic help as that compromises the maximum effect of not attending to workload (a lot of striking staff will have out of office responses lined up already). Guild buildings are technically fine to enter as they are not University buildings, but still may mean crossing a physical picket line.
You may wonder whether entering a building really mitigates solidarity with striking staff. Entering University space during the strike tangles with the issue of complicity and lack of active resistance. The strike action takes place because a significant proportion of staff do not feel sufficiently supported by the institution that owns this space. Therefore, students entering the space unnecessarily can be read as complicity surrounding unfair working conditions. There are cases of occupying and reclaiming space, such as the Northcote House occupation in 2018. However, if you want to cause maximum disruption to the University without resorting to active occupation, it’s best to either stay away from campus entirely or join the picket line.
Join the Picket Line
It’s going to be cold and wet. It’s also going to have music, food, children and pets playing, placards, and lots of brilliant conversations. This is a form of active solidarity and it can be incredibly uplifting for strikers to see and interact with students who support them. There will be pickets every day from 07:30 -16:00, with momentum most likely between 08:00-12:00. The picket locations will be in the following places:
Penryn Site, Main gate (Penryn TR10 9FE)
Attend the Teach-Out
On Friday 29 November, striking staff will be hosting a Teach-Out, a socialised learning event. Sessions will most likely cover activism-related topics and stresses the importance of education. It will go on from 12:00-16:00 in St David’s Church, Queen’s Terrace, Exeter, EX4 4HR. Look out online for the Facebook event and updates on the line-up.
Attend the Rally
On the final currently planned day of strike action (Wednesday 4 December), there will be a rally. This is welcome to students as well as staff, just like the picket line. Details TBC.
At the Teach-Out there will be an opportunity to give small donations to help cover venue hire. Also, the staff striking are taking a massive financial risk. They are going eight days without work right before Christmas. There is a hardship fund for the University of Exeter staff striking that you can transfer to – this can go a long way in showing solidarity and easing financial constraints. Account details are as follows:
Account: UCU Exeter LA21 Hardship Fund
Sort code: 60-83-01
Account no: 20392549
Reference: Exeter Hardship Fund
Staying informed on strike action takes active effort. E-mails from the University will most likely not detail why strike action is taking place and how to support staff. Staff are also restricted on what information they can give due to job stability and preferred spontaneity for maximum disruption. You can find masses of information on the website: https://exeterucu.wordpress.com/
Xmedia will also be doing regular coverage of strike action and social media is also a super useful tool:
Facebook: UCU – Exeter University Branch
Some of these options may not be available to you and there is no perfect way to support the strike action. Sometimes you may feel compromised, but every act of solidarity will be appreciated by those participating in strike action.
–Charlotte ‘Fozz’ Forrester
Photo Credits: Charlotte Forrester