FEATURE: Strikes 2021: Why I Changed Sides

By Luke Tinsley – Political Editor

Strike action is as divisive a topic as any concerning student life. If you had asked me last week about strikes, I would have said to you, please not again. In my first year, I was one of many students to have felt the bitter taste of strikes at the end of the first semester, and then again into January with COVID-19 just around the corner. My first year wasn’t the greatest, so when I heard that strikes were happening again, I felt the need to disclose I was against them; for that I’d like to apologise to our lecturers. For some, as students, we may think about ourselves too often. We have had a rough ride with it, but that isn’t the lecturer’s fault that teaches you each week; instead, the university’s higher-ups have caused this degradation.

Consider the lecturers’ point of view; why are they striking at the end of the year?

The effectiveness is not going to be great; it’s the end of the year. Most students will have completed their classes by then, and if not, they should have a good enough grasp of the subject. Before hating the lecturers for striking, they’ve done this as a kindness to students. It acts as a warning to the university that they will not roll over accepting this flagrant injustice while saying to the University: “please negotiate now before forcing them to continue into the new term. That’s when the strikes will affect us as students”.

Hence, the argument towards lecturers that striking is simply tokenism couldn’t be further from the truth. On the contrary, it emphasises their willingness to fight for what they deserve. For example, in a university with £629.7m as of 31 July 2020 – an increase of £102.2m from the position at 31 July 2019 consolidated net assets. To rollover is letting the University win in profiteering, rather than provide for the people under their employment.

If you’ll humour me for a moment, precisely 2500 years ago was the battle of Thermopylae, the 300 Spartans. If they had decided to roll over against the Persians, the world as we know it would not be the same. If the lecturers surrender, then conditions would continue to deteriorate. Perhaps even, to the point that we are essentially purchasing a degree like beans from a supermarket shelf.

The campaign poster for the Vote Yes camp.

One could argue that if lecturers hadn’t cared about students as much, they could have gone on strike every day from the beginning of the semester until the uni caved to their needs. But, instead, we are all victims; whether students or lecturers, we are all affected by the sole profit aim set so heavily prevalent in higher education.

Don’t believe me; why is it that stem subject’s lecturers weren’t joined together with those, for instance, in the humanity subjects. The reason is money. The likes of medicine, business, science are much more profitable in the money they can bring in. So, more international students do these subjects than say the preferences of English or history, for example. The University ensures that they are well provided. Those others that may not provide as big of an economic outcome are left squandered.

A very excellently made blog post by The Scoop from Sean O’Connell provides compelling arguments for the lecturers’ side, which I recommend you check out to fully immerse yourself in the necessity of why strikes must happen.

Again consider this, as to why you should support our lecturers rather than the University. Two months ago, I wrote in The Gown about the awful deal offered by students regarding cancelling their accommodation in September. A time in which most housings had been taken long ago, it made it extremely difficult for students to suddenly find out that they wouldn’t be getting Queen’s accommodation this year. They were left to search elsewhere to the muted ears of the University. This fault comes from the exact location of those that made life for us more difficult that are making life hard for our lecturers—the very top of the chain.

If to strike is to rebel, then I hope we defeat the empire. However, if the SU vote favours the University rather than our lecturers, that will be a genuine defeat. Like if Luke failed to destroy the death star in a New Hope, that would be honestly depressing.

I think it’s too easy to say that lecturers should have waited until next year to commit to a strike. They need the university to reopen negotiations as much as we need a good education. The UCU will call off the strike if Queens do open up communications once again. I selfishly used to be on the side of, well, myself. Strikes will disrupt my class; please don’t do it. But it takes a certain level of sacrifice from us as students. Life could be better for us if the University would pay their employees correctly and above minimum wage. The fact they haven’t is truly sickening.

Most importantly, consider this, 15-20 years ago, when there were many more lecturers, each lecturer had no more than 8 or 9 students per class. That meant the effectiveness of their teaching was much more significant as more contact time per student. As pay decreased and they began falling off, more students had to be allocated to each lecturer. More teaching per student was required, more marking of each paper and, therefore, a much greater workload. Lecturers who could teach for a portion then do their academic research on the side are relegated to solely teaching. The University is throttling our lecturers, and they deserve so much better.

So, if you are furious at your lecturers for striking this coming week and potentially into the new year, I hope you can redirect it. Towards those at the head of the university, for instance, Ian Greer, President and Vice-Chancellor of the university. He has a voice that he has chosen not to use. I used mine on 24th November; I voted yes for our lecturers to go on strike, and I hope you did too.

An admission I voted yes supporting our lecturers. 

How will the University respond to strike action is as of yet unknown? What we can say is that The Gown will continue to report on further developments. Of which I, as Political Editor, wishes our lecturers the best of luck. We appreciate you. Remember the view of the lecturer when you see them at the very front of Lanyon, they deserve support, and I hope they win. 

Published by The Gown Queen's University Belfast

The Gown has provided respected, quality and independent student journalism from Queen's University, Belfast since its 1955 foundation, by Dr. Richard Herman. Having had an illustrious line of journalists and writers for almost 70 years, that proud history is extremely important to us. The Gown is consistent in its quest to seek and develop the talents of aspiring student writers.

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