Dr Jonathan Bridge, Senior Lecturer in Physical Geography.
Reproduced here with the kind permission from Dr Bridge, for whom we offer our thanks for allowing us to do so and solidarity.
Why I’m striking #1: the point of exploration
Well, it is 6.30 am on a Monday morning. Kitchen is cleaned down, kids’ packed lunches are made, and Lizzie has a cup of tea. So far, so everyday. About now I would usually be checking emails for the first time this week, looking at my timetable and wondering whether I’m going to be able to find any space to progress research work, or thinking through how I’m going to deliver whatever classes or lectures I’ve got on.
But I’m not. For the first time in my career, somehow, I’m part of a union dispute, and I’m on strike.
I’ve been through a huge range of emotions in the past week, as the 8 day strike approached. Something like the stages of grief. I’ve been frustrated, angry, anxious. I’ve spent evenings checking the rules and regulations and worrying about the impacts on my colleagues and local managers (who are also my colleagues). I’ve been sad, really sad, and then by turns euphoric. It feels good to be finally taking a stand against things that I’ve been whingeing about in the office for months, or years. But it also strikes deep against my professional instincts towards the education of my students, my loyalty to my institution – which is really there – and my responsibilities to my team.
The practical reason I’m on strike is because my union has asked me to be. They’ve been negotiating with the universities on a range of subjects which benefit my pay and conditions, have failed to make progress, have asked us to vote on what to do, and been given a mandate to call us out of work. That’s the deal and so here I am. But of course that’s not a personal justification, and so I’m using this time to explore what underpins this dispute, how I can make sense of my place in academia and what will happen when this strike is over and I’m back at work.
My first point has to be that it is not a personal grievance about my pay, or a cry for help about my personal conditions. I am (and I assume I will continue to be!) a senior lecturer, full-time, permanent contract, just entering what I guess is best termed mid-career. I’m well-off; despite the headlines that the strike is about falling pay and punitive pensions conditions, I’m not feeling that. I earn more than I did this time last year, just through annual increments; pensions are a dark art to me.
Workplace conditions are a slightly different matter. I’ll think and write about this in more detail over the course of the week. My time in my current job – just under 3 years – has seen massive and constant change in the systems and structures of the university. Faculty rebranding, reorganisations, large-scale restructuring. Consultant-driven wholesale change in the professional services structures, and most recently technical services, leading not only to the loss of experienced, specialist support staff but the seemingly-arbitrary relocation of staff to new roles and new offices with which they are not familiar. New curriculum structures have been announced top-down and rolled out on timescales completely at odds with long-established cycles of academic operation, quality review and implementation of change. There is a sense of a ‘hostile environment’ on spending anything to support our jobs.
The impacts of these changes on my colleagues has been stark. Course and modules leaders no longer know who to go to for administrative or technical support – or don’t have confidence they will get it even if they do. Local academic managers trying to implement these changes alongside their own workload, and dealing with the grievances of those beside them at the coalface, are visibly stressed, even distressed. Communications within the team – never a strong point – become even more strained. Everything is more intense; everything is more uncertain; everything seems more of a struggle.
Is this productive? Is this the feeling of an agile economic machine easing into top gear? Where, in any of this, is the education of our students? Where is the intelligent, considered, deliberate pursuit of knowledge as a fundamental social good? Where is the organisation of the University in service of these goals?
I’m striking because my union is in dispute on specific issues, and has asked me to strike. But with eight days now that are suddenly entirely my own, free time, I’ve realised that I’m only just beginning to explore the real urgent need to take a stand.
Follow Jonathan’s journey through the 8 days of strikes on his blog site where he’s already posted the second insightful and open chapter.
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