Don’t let the far-Left co-opt university strikes
Individual academics are being pressured by militant unions
The toxic combination of identity politics and bureaucratic form-filling have placed universities at the very vanguard of politicised workplaces. But as strike season hobbles on, with 18 strike days this term, serious questions are being asked — even by Lefty academics — about whether the totalising political approach to work might be backfiring.
Many of my friends are academics employed by UK universities. Some have been fervent strikers in the ongoing dispute between the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) and employers over low pay, overwork and a 35% cut to employees’ pensions. On Thursday one such friend, who lectures at Goldsmiths, emailed me frantically. They wanted to alert me to their institution’s new policy of forcing staff — from groundsmen and cleaners to professors — to opt out, not in, of strikes. If they do not plan to strike, they must fill in a form with complicated rules attached for every week in which industrial action is planned. That’s every week bar one, by the way.
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If they don’t, their pay will be docked as if they had not worked at all. The policy change was announced via an email from Goldsmiths’ parodic-sounding ‘Head of People’. “At the start of every week strike action takes place, Goldsmiths will email all colleagues on our payroll with the online form to be completed,” the missive said. “You may opt out before strike action takes place should you wish, however you must opt out no later than three working days after strike action has taken place.” On it goes.
On the face of it, the strikes have some legitimacy: the pensions cut in particular is troubling, and especially rich coming from institutions regularly criticised for overpaying their vice chancellors and senior management. But in many universities, the strikes have been co-opted by a far-Left agenda that has drifted far away from the original mission. The UCU is strongly anti-Israel, for instance, using its Twitter feed to cheerlead for the Palestinian cause, and to show ‘solidarity’ as fellow strikers. Condemnation for Israeli ‘attacks on children’ (a repetition of the blood libel at its most basic) is posted on official UCU platforms. The expectation of solidarity among striking UCU members with climate strikers is also commonplace, plus a host of other predictable “solidarities” — with Black Lives Matter, the trans rights movement and so on.
Perhaps more people at a place like Goldsmiths are assumed to want to strike than not, making this the easier way to keep track — though it’s hard to imagine university cleaners thumbing their nose at a day’s wage. Still, the end result is one of the most hyper-liberal universities in the land effectively punishing those who do not have time, ability or nous to constantly monitor their institutional email; as anyone who has been on a university email list will know, the volume of administrative emails is so enormous that all but the most careful will certainly miss some.
But maybe the good fight is losing its gleam. At Durham, a lecturer who refuses to participate in the strikes told me that support seems increasingly weak. “Union reps have no interest in resolving any kind of industrial dispute,” he says. “It’s always just about striking, which is why they post happy-clappy ‘Hurray, we’re striking’ posters on social media. For six years every term has seen a strike, sometimes just for a day. What have they got to show for it? Zilch, zero, absolutely nothing. It’s just ludicrous.”
He goes on, “You don’t solve problems like this with juvenile activists: you need proper employment lawyers […] then you wouldn’t have to pump your fist and show Leninist symbols on a picket line every few weeks.” Of course, fewer and fewer of his colleagues are bothering to do so.
“But maybe the good fight is losing its gleam.”
So what? Many university employees might now be cynical about their unions but apparently the unions still have the power to compel people to participate in strikes or face consequences.
We constantly read on Unherd, and elsewhere, that far-left policies have lost their gleam (or never had any gleam) among the majority of the population, but still the far-lefties drive the public debate, drive cancel culture and other forms of wokeism.
The silent majority remain silent and disgruntled and nothing will change until we all take a stand locally and nationally against the type of left-wing-overreach described in the article. I feel for the university employees described in the article. Their workplace is now so politicized they’ll pay a heavy price if they stand up and say no to the latest diktats.
On the off-chance that the author reads this comment, I wonder if she knows of any examples where university employees (or employees in the public sector more generally) are successfully standing up to the ultra-lefties in any way? Would she consider writing an article about how to resist these activists? So many articles describe the problem without even attempting to present a way forward. If the author is willing to write such an article I wonder if she can find a publisher? Even Unherd seems problem-focused and not solution-focused.
It’s about time we asked ourselves whether we really need all these universities now we have the Internet. If they didn’t exist we wouldn’t invent them.
UCU is a clownish organisation run by ridiculous, militant goons who enjoy political posturing in preference to actually supporting members (when I needed help from them, my rep was hopeless) – and they get a pretty penny for it from members. I left the union after 20+ years’ membership because of their failure to support Kathleen Stock. In my current place of work, the UCU chair is at loggerheads with members of the committee over some perceived slight and the emails flying back and forth (I still get them even though I left over a year ago) are simply barking – paranoid and hysterical. Really quite unseemly. I’ll never rejoin.
I had a second career as a senior lecturer in a university for nearly a decade. When I started I joined the UCU; but very soon resigned and walked through picket lines when they called a national strike. The leaders of the union were left-wing activists who merely used the weight of membership in their marxist revolutionary struggle to defeat oppression. I never regretted my decision, which was later reinforced by the UCU’s abysmal (but entirely predictable) failure to support Kathleen Stock in her hour of need. I resigned from my position in 2017 when I saw the Woke madness coming down the tracks; since when the university sector has been even further corrupted cultural marxism than it was in my day. And it was bad enough then!
Universities have become places that tell students WHAT to think rather than developing them HOW to think. That is why we have the cancel culture and how the Woking Class has been born, nurtured and propagated in our world at large.
So, the far left, embedded in our academic institutions and elsewhere, are revealed as being anti-liberal control freaks.
Does each new generation really have to discover this for itself?
I love it – Insane, Western Hating, Modernist-Liberal-Left wreckers wrecking their own house.
Good – when they finally kill of the twisted institution called ‘Higher Education’ as exemplified by Universities today – maybe actual knowledge and thinking can be rediscovered.
Actually I doubt it though. Really it is just the death of education probably – I do not see hope for the future in real education returning, the cell phone managed what Plato said books would, by a power of 1000X.
”And so it is that you by reason of your tender regard for the writing that is your offspring have declared the very opposite of its true effect. If men learn this, it will implant forgetfulness in their souls. They will cease to exercise memory because they rely on that which is written, calling things to remembrance no longer from within themselves, but by means of external marks.
What you have discovered is a recipe not for memory, but for reminder. And it is no true wisdom that you offer your disciples, but only the semblance of wisdom, for by telling them of many things without teaching them you will make them seem to know much while for the most part they know nothing. And as men filled not with wisdom but with the conceit of wisdom they will be a burden to their fellows.
Now all the books are instantly available on your clutched phone, and everything they contain is there (although the algorithms just show that which make you believe the agenda) means people become much stupider – – AND now the writing just writes its self…- ChatGPT – and with its built in Liberal/Left Agenda will just take over.
You miserable phone clutching Sheep! I think education is dead no matter what the useless University staff do…no matter what the evil administrators do, and no matter what the silly, ignorant of life, students do. You all are obsolete now….go back to your pods and eat your bugs…….
Zoe, you should tell your friend, ironically, to complain to his or her union. This is very likely an “unlawful deduction from earnings”, Employment Rights Act 1996, S13.
If the union won’t act, your friend should notify ACAS, which should intervene.
If Goldsmiths go ahead, initiate a claim through the Employment Tribunal – it’s free – but act promptly as there is a time limit of 3 months minus 1 day for making a claim.
Surely it’s illegal to assume that an employee is on strike? Nice way to save money, though.
Did all the student/Univ politics back our days generate as much interest? I suspect not. Was it less heated/ideological? I very much doubt it.
Are alot of more extreme view holders back in the day somewhat less radical now? Yep.
Moral of the story – the western world didn’t come to an end before and won’t now. Passion when you are that stage of life is to be welcomed. Spare us banal conformity. Go to a Uni run by the CCP if you want that.
Did the majority of members not vote to strike?
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