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Where has our empathy gone? – Students at Bath vote against supporting UCU strikes

With a further 18 days of UCU strikes set for February and March, students are understandably frustrated. It feels like the past 4 years of our degrees have either been overshadowed by countless days of strikes or a global pandemic. However, while I do sympathise with my peers about the disruption to our education, I feel incredibly disappointed to see the reaction of Bath students towards the cause behind the industrial action.

I’m not surprised that Bath students have voiced opposition to the strikes, but I’m saddened that students feel as though they’re in direct opposition to their lecturers and seminar leaders, rather than in solidarity with them. It takes a huge amount of privilege to completely disagree with strikes and to claim that they “don’t work”, which I frequently hear on campus. Striking is never the first port of call when unions are debating pay, pensions and working conditions with employers, so we need to appreciate how dire the situation must be for, not just our lecturers, but half the country to go on strike.

Striking is a key part of our history in the UK. Its disruptive nature has led to huge political and social developments. From the 5-day working week to increasing annual holiday and the minimum wage. We take so many liberties that striking gave us for granted, and to ignore the amazing achievements of unions and chastise strikes as ‘annoying’ seems somewhat ignorant to me.

I also find it strange that the students I’ve heard moaning about the strikes are also students who hardly attend their lectures. I’ve heard countless friends remark that they’re paying “£9k a year – and for what?”, but I’ve also seen them sack off a 9:15 lecture on a Monday or justify missing a seminar “because they’re pointless anyway”. Now, I’m not saying that you need to religiously attend your lectures to be able to be annoyed at the strikes, but what I am saying is that we’ve managed to get through our degrees despite missing lectures thus far. No one has been severely impacted by the strikes, so, we don’t really have anything to complain about.

As a final year, I have considered the impact the strikes will have on me this year. I want my fourth year to be as stress-free and smooth as possible, which the strikes could affect. But when thinking about my final year, I also recognised a crucial difference between myself and the lecturers who teach me: after my degree ends, the annoyance of striking lecturers goes away. Yet, the lecturers will have to deal with insecure employment and poor working conditions for the rest of their professional lives, unless something changes.

Putting this into perspective made me realise that I haven’t really got a leg to stand on when it comes to complaining about missing lectures. Especially, when someone else is complaining about not being able to heat their home due to low pay or their pension being cut by 35%.

Workers across the country are striking. From ambulance staff to post office workers, the living conditions of people in the UK are unacceptable, and people are fighting back against it; this isn’t just ‘lecturers striking like they do every year for no real reason’. Our government has addressed all strikes in an appalling manner. Union power is so limited that instead of employers sitting down with employees and compromising on the issues people are concerned about, our government is attempting to ban workers in key industries from striking. They are trying to ban people from asking for fair pay and for liveable working conditions.

I don’t know what sector I’ll end up in when I finish university. Nevertheless, I can’t imagine the pain of asking an employer for a fairer wage to help support my family, only to be told that they won’t consider it and that the government support them in firing me if I do decide to strike. The problem is, workers will keep striking regardless of whether they risk losing their jobs because they have no other choice at this point. A general strike seems likely, and our government need to act.

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