On the eve of the industrial action by UCU members, Dr Kendra Briken describes why the strike has already started at Strathclyde University.
Strike action does not start on the picket lines. Strike action starts the moment the ballot paper is on your desk. It starts with the first discussions over coffee, in the corridors, or on the streets, and with your colleagues. The questions emerge, evolving through different iterations: What is your strike? What is our strike?
Going on strike means to collectively withdraw labour, to cause a disruption, and to become visible in our demands, but to exercise this leverage in the education sector is challenging. Going on strike in academia, if it is to be visible, necessarily includes to withdraw our labour from our workplace: from lecture theatres, libraries, IT, open plan and other offices.
Our becoming visible means to intervene into the space we most care about: education. In doing so, we will ultimately impact the ones we most care about: our students. We act against our own impulses, and we know that our demand has to be translatable to the ones we do impact in this strike action. So that is why.
Our strike is an open invitation to education. Over recent weeks the call for strike action has opened up a new space, an opportunity to reconstitute collectivity, and to enhance general levels of sociability. Our strike is a social strike in that we started talking, organising, and even more importantly listening carefully to each other’s anxiety, fears, and exhaustions.
Work intensification, competition, performance management, and casualisation is something experienced by both university staff and students. We realised and discussed how this has changed our social relations at work, how we barely talk to each other anymore outside of the lecture theatre. Our encounter is more and more transferred into the two dimensional spaces of standardised feedback forms, rankings, and ratings.
Going on strike will allow us to further discover collectivity and to gain a much better understanding of our experiences, what divides us now but can be shared in the future. We made visible the hidden potential of solidarity with staff – those on different contracts, from other faculties, in between professionals and academics – and most importantly, with our students.
In this, our strike is a demand, and at the same time it is the careful search for alternatives. Teach-ins, music sessions, fundraisers, going to a bookstore or having exchanges over coffee, these activities are far from disrupting education. If learning is based on making new experiences, the strike is an offer to our students to join us in a different form of education. We disrupt and withdraw our labour but we are still at work, and create while we disrupt; we too are learning as we go.
Our strike doesn’t start at the picket lines. Our strike has started already. The overwhelming and immediate support of the students’ unions is one obvious dimension.
On Thursday, we will meet at the pickets, and our strike has long begun. Our strike action is an open invitation to education. This is our strike.
The UCU strike starts on the 22nd February and will take place over the following weeks. For more information about the strike visit the UCU website. Strike demonstrations will take place in Glasgow and Dundee on 22nd February, and Edinburgh on 26th February.