With up to 25% of the University’s staff belonging to trade unions, Thursday’s strike is expected to make at least short term impacts on many students’ learning. Exeposé Comment asked around to gauge the political support on campus and assess the causes of the strike here at Exeter.
Student political opinion is somewhat divided, with various societies trying to decide whether striking is a responsible decision made by the involved faculty and if it’s our duty as students to support our lecturers. We had great interaction on Twitter @CommentExepose, Exeter Conservative Future said that, “students should not be held hostage by [the] unions” and that, “it is selfish to deny students their education for financial gains.” They also remarked that it was “disappointing to see action taken on such a low turnout” and that “more of a consensus is needed before such action [is] taken.” There appears to be strong feeling that the faculty could find ways to protest that more directly affect their employers and not their students, but maybe striking is as much about showing solidarity with the other members of your trade union as it is about actually thinking that it’s the best course of action.
With a 64% majority of a 28% turnout, it is only a small proportion of people in the involved unions who actively endorse strike action, but President of Exeter Labour Students Dan Richards says that, “the student body should support the lecturers strike as the aims of the strike are legitimate. Whilst University staff have been suffering 13% real terms pay cut since 2008, the average pay and pensions package for vice-chancellors has been hitting almost £250,000. The strike aims at increasing the wage of all University staff, not just lecturers too!”
The UK wide group Socialist Students responded that “the whole point of a strike is to fight not individually but together”. Again struggling to take a strong stance while trying to find a middle ground between Conservatives and Labour, Exeter Liberal Democrats responded by saying that they believe that the decision to go on strike is a decision “for individual members to take.” They further argued that “strike action is disruptive and is detrimental to students’ education.”
Within the University hierarchy, there seems to be just cause for a strike. Sir Steve Smith, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Exeter has a reported salary of £386,000, while lecturers were offered just a 1% pay increase. Although the University is part of a national pay bargaining agreement, shouldn’t a vice-chancellor who went on the record as disliking inequality really be doing more to ensure that the disparity in pay among his own staff is put to right? If nothing else, hopefully the Halowe’en strike will highlight the pay conditions of our University’s valued academics.
Dave Reynolds and James Bennett