17 Jan 2020

It’s 2020: Workers Unite!

Happy New Year! Welcome to what a close friend of mine is calling “the year of not putting up with any of it anymore”

I haven’t done a blog post in a long time. I guess I haven’t really felt inspired or maybe I just didn’t have the time. So let’s get the new decade rolling with a fiery *WHY YOU SHOULD JOIN THE UNION* blog post.

I’m a member of the University and College Union, or UCU, which is the union for higher education and further education in the UK. If you spend any time around universities in the UK, you’re probably aware of the strikes that have happened over the last couple of years. We went on strike over pensions in Spring 2018, and we have just been on strike again and continue to follow Action Short of Strike (ASOS) over (1) pensions, and (2) pay inequality, job insecurity, rising workloads, and pay deflation. Each university union branch votes over whether to engage in industrial action, and currently a number of branches that were close but didn’t quite get the turnout are now re-balloting. UCU is in discussions with employers, and we will find out at the end of January whether there will be further industrial action. I highly recommend checking the Twitter hashtags #UCUstrike #UCUstrikesback for uplifting picket line content.

Striking UCU members outside of Heslington Hall at the University of York

Growing a Union

One thing that is evident on the picket lines is that union membership is unevenly distributed across departments (I'm looking at you, natural sciences). Some departments at my university (hiya, social sciences) have 90% union membership, where my department doesn’t even have a union rep. This is something that we desperately need to address at a grassroots level.

I am THAT loud union voice in my department, and this week I was loud at a meeting. After that meeting I was contacted by two separate people interested in helping to build the union in our department, as well as a departmental discussion that could benefit from union presence. The desire for union building is there, we just need to reach it.

What I wish I'd known years ago is : if you are a PhD you can join UCU free as a student or as a student who teaches (two different options). The latter allows you to apply to the fighting fund if you decide to strike. There is a national fighting fund (donate here) and most branches have local fighting funds, which can help to cover some of the lost pay during strike action.

"But I love my job – I get paid to do research – why should I join a union?"

Loving your job is exactly WHY you should join a union. Loving your job does not exclude you from stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues brought on by the increased casualization of our labour. Loving your job does not mean that you should put up with things that hurt you. When we all stand together, everyone who loves their job, we can make our jobs better. And – particularly of importance in the current industrial action – those who have more secure positions can fight for those who don’t. Working together improves the system for everyone.

Being in a union isn’t just about going on strike. It’s about everyday actions of solidarity, about local campaigns, shifting policy within departments and within universities. Building a strong union in our own universities strengthens a community of university staff.

So that’s my pitch. Unions are vital for workers, and university workers ARE workers too. There is power in a union. 

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