Why I’m not striking, but you probably will

6

It’s rare that real-life political upheaval ever actually breaches the borders of our little north-eastern Fife town. On Thursday 31 October, UCU, Unison, and Unite trade unions – whose membership covers all unionised university staff – will strike over the 1 per cent pay rise offered to staff this year. This 1 per cent rise is not unusual over the last five years, but because raises have not kept up with inflation or cost of living rises, it represents a 13 per cent real cut in pay since 2008.

I don’t think that anyone would disagree that these pay conditions are difficult, and university staff have some right to feel hard done by. But when you contextualise these figures, it really doesn’t seem so special. UK-wide wages have fallen in real terms by nine or ten per cent (depending on who you read) in the last five years, while unemployment has risen from 5.3% to 7.7%. This is not a country with a healthy economy for workers. Surely this gives the staff even more reason to strike? If this problem is affecting everyone, then we can stand up with the support of the whole country?

On a very basic level, yes, that is true, but when you look at the riots in Greece over austerity, then compare our own strife, you might wonder if any strikes in the UK are not similar. The Greeks became comfortable with a country where the civil service was a golden ticket for life, and where public sector workers were over-paid and under-worked. I would never claim that university staff are over-paid or under-worked, but public sector workers have to accept that their industry is just as vulnerable to market forces as private sector workers, who more often are laid off than face pay-cuts. Everyone is facing the squeeze: last night I had dinner with two doctors and a teacher, all of whom have seen no pay scale changes in years. Their real pay decreases are almost exactly the same value as the CPI. The private sector is naturally more volatile, and unemployment figures reflect that, but there are plenty of jobs in private companies whose pay will not have changed since 2007/8. What frustrates me about the strike is the student body’s blind support of it. We seem to think that because we are students, we are obliged to be in support of industrial action. Our parents were the activists, the campaigners of the 70s and 80s, and now those nostalgic conversations are becoming real again.

I won’t be going on strike, and neither will my lecturer on Thursday. I have no doubt that many of my peers will take the opportunity to get involved a little bit of history, however. The Students’ Representative Council voted to support it; national newspapers report that the St Andrews student body will support the strike. Well, I didn’t vote for it.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Well James, you may not be hard done by but when your pay is being cut by 13% and there’s an 18:1 disparity in the university, the highest in the public sector, you wonder why Louise Richardson gets roughly a quarter of a million and rising above inflation while you’re living (in St Andrews!!) on minimum wage. There is quite a large surplus in the sector too.
    You say “If this problem is affecting everyone..”, well it’s not really, not at St Andrews. They’re not in it together even at that level let alone UK-wide.
    University staff are always faced with hard decisions when strike action becomes necessary, it’s a difficult choice to keep helping your students or support you and your colleagues. If for 364 days a year they’re there helping the students while they have to live off less and less as a reward, you can understand why they’d make a stand for at least a single day.
    For those reasons I’m fully behind the strike action.

  2. Has there been a a 13 per cent real cut in pay of say Louise Richardson and other top dogs? Certainly not getting a feeling that “they’re all in this together”.

    Spinning this as “oh it’s not that bad compared to the national picture” doesn’t work because the University itself probably hasn’t suffered to the same degree. Out of interest where was did that extra money from those hiked tuition fees for RoUK students go? And with the influx of hundreds more students than 2008, I’m sure living costs in the St Andrews and the surrounding areas have no doubt hiked.

    You are terrifically up yourself if you believe the people are getting involved to “be a part of history” and you can’t see the serious issue here and empathise a little. Use that line in reference to the #Kony2012 campaign by all means but do not trivialise people’s rights to protest when they feel an injustice is being done. Indeed, it’s hardly as if they’ve been striking every year and are holding the system to ransom.

  3. Agree with your points Mr Gray. But, funnily enough, I was under the impression that the editors of The Saint are in favour of the strike. And too The Stand.

    Perhaps they are trying to ‘cosy’ up to their lecturers…..

    But credit to The Saint for letting this piece be published. It is just a shame we don’t have any student paper take a solid opinion on this issue but instead cover the strike very subjectively.

  4. Standing up for your right to fair pay is wrong because others are suffering too? What a stupid argument. A 13% real terms cut is a lot to bare. Not only that but when you consider the students now paying £9,000 a year to study at university and the extremely high level of qualification you need to become a lecturer it is becoming increasingly difficult for highly talented and intelligent students to become academics, especially if they are from a poor background. If that’s the case then the entire university suffers and education goes downhill.

    You also seem to not understand how democracy works… Unless you want to have a referendum on every motion that goes to the SRC?

    I would like to say that you’re a miserable little pip squeak of a man but I think we all know that the ‘little’ part isn’t true in your case.

    • I will reply to your middle paragraph: I think the motion was huge for the SRC to vote on with minimal consultation with the student body; I would have had a better consultation on it, if not a snap referendum.

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