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Direct from the picket: Roar hears from the KCL Staff at this year’s UCU Strikes

UCU strike action

From February 14 to February 18, numerous members of staff at King’s College London participated in the latest University and College Union strikes against the reduction of their pensions, conditions, and a multitude of other issues with the university and the wider higher education sector. In November 2021, over 90% of voting UCU members at KCL supported strike action against this. Amidst this, Roar talked to some on the picket line, so that we could share with our readers their reasons for participating.

On the day of the interviews, some members of staff handed out leaflets outside of the Strand Building while others gathered around Bush House, rallying against the university. Throughout the day, students, members of the public, and even former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn joined the strikes in support.

Here is a sample of what KCL staff had to say about their cause.

Dr Alec Fraser – King’s Business School

Roar: “Why are you here today?”

Dr Alec Fraser: “It’s four fights. The big thing is the pensions. The second thing is the precarity for workers. The third thing is our wages, which have been decreased over the last ten years or so. The final thing is the disparities between women, minorities, and disabled workers and male, white, and able-bodied workers. There are a lot of things that we’re very disappointed about in the state of academia which, hopefully, the strikes can shine a light on and improve.”

Professor Malcolm Fairbairn – Department of Physics

R: “What most concerns you about the university’s treatment of staff?”

Professor Malcolm Fairbairn: “My primary thing is that, when I became an academic, I forsook the possibility of going into other sectors where I could have earned a lot more money. I did this so that I could have academic freedom, job security, and a decent pension. To make that decision about your life and then a decade later to be told that, actually, we were not really telling you the truth and we’re going to change the rules, I don’t think it’s fair. That’s my primary motivation, personally.”

The crowd surrounding Bush House.

Samantha Day – Department of Geography

R: “How has this affected the staff’s ability to teach?”

Samantha Day: “They’re cutting so many costs and piling extra responsibilities on teaching staff while reducing the pensions, and so on. It’s pretty much a kick in the teeth and I think that all staff feel under pressure and not appreciated by the management. I think that it’s very exploitative. Most staff do have a passion for teaching and they have a passion for helping people learn, so the university exploits their goodwill.”

Dr Mayssoun Sukarieh – Department of International Development

R: “What would you say to anyone who wants to work in academia in the future about these issues?”

Dr Mayssoun Sukarieh: “I think that if a student wants to work in academia then they should come and support the strike because, if we win now, then your conditions when you join academia will be better. We enjoy pensions because generations of people, our parents and grandparents, fought for them. Now they are taking them from us, which will affect the later generations. If you want to be an academic then I think that you should stand with us so that we can turn academia into a better and more respectful place that is more dignified for those who work there.”

Jeremy Corbyn joins in to give a speech.

Dr James Millen – Department of Physics

R: “What outcomes do you hope this strike will have?”

Dr James Millen: “I’m confident actually that they will move on the pensions because there’s plenty of money in the pension scheme. We’re not asking for a lot. We get a £18,000 pension if we start our career as a lecturer and they want to cut it to £12,000. Regarding the other conditions, I just really hope that the universities engage with it seriously. I think that they haven’t engaged with it seriously. On issues with the workload, I think that it’s a very easy problem to solve.”

Dr Daniel Schillereff – Department of Geography

R: “Do you have any worries about how the strike might affect the education of your students, especially considering how the last few years have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and by previous strike action?”

Dr Daniel Schillereff: “Yes, absolutely. I would hope that every student realises that I think about it nonstop. Without a doubt. But, at the end of the day, our working conditions are the student learning conditions. So, I think that students often overlook an awful lot of aspects of how the university works. Not least, how many of their teaching staff are on fixed-term contracts, the fact that workloads are going up every year, that student numbers are going up every year without us really having more staff. If you are a student coming here, it’s in your interest to have high staff morale and a better-managed workload because it makes what we can then deliver to the student body much superior. At the moment, it’s not heading that way.”

Following these strikes, it has been announced via a joint statement that KCL UCU and King’s College London have reached an agreement “that a contribution of 25-30% of salary should be sufficient to secure a good pension for staff who are members of the USS”. While this does address some of the concerns that led to staff participating in the strikes, it remains uncertain how some of their other concerns will be handled.

Former Culture Editor for Roar News.

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