Strike action has been a critical part of Britain since the industrial revolution, a time where numbers of the ‘working class’ increased and living standards declined. Today, most strikes are undertaken by labour unions as a last resort when coming to an agreement over wages and working conditions. The 2011 Public Sector strike showed that strike action can be effective and successful, as unions were able to secure some concessions in regards to government policy on pensions.
Staff at the University of Bath, along with 74 other institutions, are striking with the University and College Union over pensions, pay and working conditions. The union declared 8 days of strikes in November 2019 and a further 14 days of strikes in February of this year. Strike action has been taking place at the University for two years, and, as lecturers are not obliged to tell students whether or not they are taking part, the strikes have caused disruption to many courses.
While departments like Chemical Engineering and Business have had some amount of interruption, from what I can gather, most of the disruption has hit the humanities based subjects. Charlotte Hartman, 19, tells me that every sociology module she takes has had the lectures cancelled. Equally, from my own experience in the politics department, all of my lectures have been cancelled.
In November, the students at the university voted in support of the strikes. However, in February, the Students’ Union voted against supporting the strike. The SU state on their website that the ‘SU Officer team will be having daily catch-ups with University Senior Management’. However, aside from an event where questions about the strike were answered, little else has been done to support the students. There is a potential option for refunds, however the process for receiving these has proven difficult at the University of Bath.
I have the utmost respect for those who have decided to strike as they do not receive pay while striking. However, I feel as though the strike action is targeting the wrong group of people; students instead of those higher up in the university. The strikes have caused stress for many of my peers as we do not know what we will be examined on in May, and many of us feel as though we have not been taught much in second semester, despite catching up on the readings for cancelled lectures. Strike action is important to ensure fairer working conditions, but the current strike action appears to be hitting the humanities courses at the University, while other courses continue as normal. This presents that the staff are not united on the issue and has led to tensions as students feel that they are being personally targeted while others go unscathed. Hopefully, the disputes can be resolved soon as we want our lecturers to have secure working conditions and we miss learning from their expertise.