Yesterday was full of firsts for me. I joined a union, I attended a rally, I went on strike, I asked my student not to come to me for supervision and felt extremely bad for it. So why did I, and many other UK university staff go on strike?
On the surface of it, it’s about pensions but it runs deeper than that, all the way to the marketization of education and disenfranchisement of students and workers the country over. It will affect the freedom of education for generations to come. There have been various excellent articles and threads elsewhere debunking the myths surrounding the USS story and UCU strike. See @davidhuyssen on Twitter, for example. Here, however, I want to focus on this from a postdoc’s perspective.
I have a job I love: I do cutting-edge experiments at the frontiers of science, I teach extremely bright and engaged students, I collaborate with some of the sharpest minds in the world. But for this I have had to sacrifice job security: I’m in my 30s and I since leaving school I’ve existed on temporary contracts, gaining experience and proving my worth as a scientist, primarily by doing research and publishing it. If I do it well enough, the next job *might* be a permanent position.
So I’m caught between feeling completely in support of the #ucustrike and needing to do the research that will help me find a job. No research and the university can no longer boast that it’s supporting my research and the papers that come out of it. No research unfortunately also means that, unlike staff already on permanent contracts, from next year I’ll probably be out of a job with no pension to fight for. It seems like the effect on me is greater than the intended effect on the university here.
However, I also have other responsibilities that are a vital part of the university education system but have less bearing on my own job security: attending department committee meetings, running a laboratory, supervising students, marking etc. So, is there a compromise for postdocs like me caught in this situation? For now, I’ve decided to continue with my own research out of the office but strike for everything else– today, that’s 3.5 hours marking, running a laboratory and supervising a student.
I will lose over £1000 pay and the students will lose valuable contact time. I’d rather not have to strike, but 3.5 hours lost today is a small price to pay for the future security of educators and education across the UK.
To permanent staff I’d say please support your postdocs in this: your labs would be poorer without them and this issue will affect your ability to attract the best candidates as their successors. Oh, it’s also about your pension too.
To students, I’m sorry this affects your education. If you’re thinking about further study, a career in academia or research we’re doing it for your future. And the quality of your children’s education. Please ask your vice chancellor to return to the negotiations.
To everyone on strike, I stand with you, whether I’m on the picket line or elsewhere. I hope you understand the situation that postdocs like me are in.
Keep up to date with the strikes @ucu with #ucustrike and #ussstrike.