Both Toope and Virgo criticised the movementLouis Ashworth

Throughout this term, discourse surrounding strike action has been prevalent among both students and academics. Responses to the industrial action over pay and pensions have varied significantly, with some welcoming the action and others criticising the potential disruption they could cause.

Knowledge about the potential strikes has been circulating for some time, and last week (16/11) the details were set. The Cambridge branch of the University and College Union (UCU) confirmed that their members will strike from Wednesday 1 December to Friday 3 December.

Though the strike action only affects one day in Week Eight of this term, potential further action after the Christmas break “could cause further disruption”.

This term, the UCU have twice voted in favour of the motion concerning strike action at the University. The strikes are taking place over issues of “pensions and pay, unsafe workloads, casualisation and equality failings”, and are a part of a nation-wide movement.

An academic involved in the organisation of the strikes, Dr Marian Mayer, claimed in a tweet that “casualisation, spiralling workloads & pay inequality blight our sector”.

In an email sent last week (17/11) to “inform” students of the strikes, both Vice-Chancellor Stephen Toope and Senior Pro-Vice-Chancellor Graham Virgo criticised the movement. Vice Chancellor Toope expressed how he is “deeply concerned” about their impact following an academic year disrupted by Covid, while Senior Pro-Vice-Chancellor Virgo also emphasised his worries over the “potential disruption” to education.

Some of the student body have voiced support for the movement, though there are some loud voices expressing their discontent. A recent survey conducted by the Tab has found that 34 percent of students support the strikes, the greatest percentage in the survey compared to 31 percent who claimed not to know enough about the movement.

The Cambridge Student Union (SU) passed a motion at its fortnightly meeting on 25/10, which pledged to “support striking workers, as well as students affected by strikes”. The motion passed with 69% support from council members.

Since this vote, the SU have sent update emails, informing students with details of the strikes, support that will be provided and how students can show solidarity with the movement.

Support from students has been called for by the campaign group, Cambridge Defend Education, critiquing how the undergraduate supervision system “exploits” workers.

Responses to the strikes do not sit neatly on the binary between support and condemnation. Some students do not know what the strikes entail, while others believe in the sentiment of the strikes but fail to support the action in practice.

There are students with a complex relationship with the strikes – supporting the aim of the movement without willing to back the actions that are being carried out. In the previously mentioned survey, 21.9 percent of students “responded that they supported the cause but not the strikes”.


Mountain View

University ‘deeply concerned’ by strike-induced disruption to education

While some have claimed this attitude as “selfish”, citing the long-term benefits of the strikes for those involved and future academics, others have pointed to how “different students have different stakes” in the campaigns, with MPhil students allegedly losing out on assignments which determined their final grade during the last set of strikes.

Even among those who are aware of the strikes and what they entail, confusion has circulated around what constitutes as crossing of picket lines, with many students venting their concerns on Camfess.

Not all attitudes are positive or indifferent – some have responded to the strikes with disapproval. A number of students have pointed to the need for academic publication and research to be affected, instead of academic teaching, claiming “academics strike only in ways that harm students”.

This year is not the first time the strikes have taken place in the University. Strikes have, and continue to, divide opinion amongst students and academics across the city.