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Everything You Wanted to Know about the Strike But Were Afraid to Ask!
FAQs for Students

Written by staff & student members of Sussex UCU, November 2019

1.  What is a strike?

2.  Why are university workers going on strike?

3.   What would a strike achieve at Sussex?

4.  Why should students support this strike action?

5.  Are lecturers paid on strike days anyway?

6.  What happens when workers go on strike?

7.  What is a picket line and where are they? 

8.  Neutral spaces or ‘support the strike’ zones?

9.  I have a disability and am worried about how the strike will impact me. 

     (Find accessibility information here.)

10. Should I attend lectures and seminars?

11. What happens if I live on campus, or need to access campus to work or meet with 

Friends?

12. How can I support university workers who are striking?

13. Will there be any events I can attend during the strike on campus?

14. UCU & USSU statement of solidarity with disabled students and staff
 

1. What is a strike?

A strike is a form of industrial action where workers (e.g., cleaners, doctors, lecturers) collectively withdraw their labour in order to disrupt their workplace and force employers to negotiate with them on pay and/or conditions of work; in other words, to achieve a shared goal.

2. Why are university workers going on strike?

Workers in 60 universities have voted to go on strike. At Sussex there are two interlinked issues on which we are striking: pay, equalities, and casualisation AND the USS pensions dispute. Jo Grady, the Secretary General of UCU has said: “Although these are separate disputes, they speak to a common theme. Over the past decade, the treatment of higher education staff has taken a turn for the worse, and they have witnessed declines in their pay, pensions and working conditions.

Pay in higher education has fallen by more than 15% against RPI since 2009, and attempts by the Universities and Colleges Employers’ Association (UCEA) to downplay the scale of this trend confirms just how far it has plummeted. At the same time, staff in higher education face increasingly unreasonable workload demands and insecure employment. A third of academic staff are employed on fixed-term contracts. 

The current dispute over USS pensions stems from changes introduced since 2011, which means the average member stands to lose around £240,000 over their lifetime. Last year’s unprecedented strike action stopped plans to scrap defined benefit pensions, but members now face steep rises in their pension contributions – from 8.0% last year to 9.6%, with further increases planned in 2021. This is despite an independent panel of experts concluding that the scheme could continue with a much lower contribution rate.”

3. What would a strike achieve at Sussex?

Strike action has been central to winning often taken-for-granted worker rights, such as sick pay, the living wage, challenging racist and sexist pay gaps and hiring practices. By taking strike action at Sussex, university workers are sending a clear signal to our employer: come to the table and negotiate meaningfully over inequality, casualisation and the theft of our wages through changes to our pensions. 

4. Why should students support this strike action?

University workers do not take the decision to strike lightly because we are dedicated to the education of our students. We love what we do. But we are being prevented from bringing our best to the classroom by the exploitative conditions we work in. These are the same conditions which mean you, the students, are in record levels of debt before you even leave university. Campus is increasingly crowded due to the push for higher numbers of students without thought for whether infrastructure is adequate in coping with such increases. Your struggle to gain an education is connected to our struggle in trying to educate you, in conditions that are harmful to us all. Let’s change them!

(This by Rashné Limki is excellent for a deeper explanation.) 

5. Are lecturers paid on strike days anyway?

No, the University will not pay lecturers when they are on strike. For each day they are on strike, they will lose a day’s pay. This strike will be 8 days long, beginning on 25th November to the 4th of December. There is a hardship fund to support workers who are the most precariously positioned due to structured exploitation within universities. Striking workers who can afford to, will donate into this fund to support their colleagues; this is an example of solidarity which is essential to any collective action. 

6. What happens when workers go on strike?

When workers go on strike, it means they withdraw their labour in order to challenge and transform conditions of exploitation. Workers on strike will not be undertaking their usual duties whatever these may be. This will include teaching, researching, holding office hours, responding to emails, fulfilling administrative tasks, attending committee meetings, and organising or participating in events during strike days. Instead, workers will organise picket lines around the university to disrupt the normal running of the university to ensure our employer listens to our concerns and takes action. 

7. What is a picket line and where are they at Sussex? 

A picket line is where workers and union reps (‘picketers’ or ‘pickets’) stand outside a workplace to tell other people why they are striking. Due to the gradual degradation of worker rights in the UK, an individual picket line is only allowed to be formed of six people and is heavily regulated. Workers on the picket line aim to educate and ask students and other workers not to cross in solidarity with strike action. This contributes to the power of the strike. 

Sussex picket lines will be at Falmer main entrance (by the pedestrian crossing), the Sports Centre bus stop, Knights Gate Rd, and the A27 bus stop.

Neutral spaces.

Falmer House and Meeting House are all ‘neutral’ spaces which students should consider using in solidarity, rather than parts of campus where it’s ‘business as usual’. ‘Business as usual’ spaces include classrooms, lecture theatres, offices of staff members, and the Library (apart from the ‘neutral rooms’ described below in the accessibility section). If in doubt, just stick to neutral spaces! (For anyone who lives on campus or needs to access student services, see below.)

8. I have a disability and am worried about how the strike will impact me.

UCU and USSU are working together to ensure that any industrial action over the coming weeks supports the needs of disabled people on campus and works against cultures of ableism in Higher Education. 

Below you can find accessibility information for Sussex students and staff during the strikes.

Accessible Picket Lines

  • Picket lines at Sussex will be at Falmer main entrance, the Sports Centre bus stop, Knights Gate Rd, and the A27 bus stop.
  • Sussex UCU will inform those taking part in the strike that disabled individuals may need to access campus for their medical, physical, emotional, or other needs.
  • Picketers will be aware of the location of the nearest accessible toilet. Accessing that toilet does not constitute crossing the picket line!
  • None of the picket lines will physically stop anyone from entering campus.  Instead picketers will be talking to people and arguing that they shouldn’t enter the educational spaces on campus.  
  • The picket line at Falmer main entrance will be made an accessible picket line, with USSU providing blankets and chairs. UCU invites all students to join us at the picket line for conversations about the strike.
  • Quiet strike solidarity activities will be highlighted on the teach-out schedule
  • Quiet strike information sessions may also run in Falmer House for the duration of the strike. (TBC) 

Sunflower Lanyards

  • USSU will make Sunflower Lanyards available during the strike period. These act as a discreet sign to picketers that the wearer (or somebody who is with them) has a hidden disability and may need to access campus for their medical, physical, emotional, or other needs.

Info on how to obtain these here: TBC

Transportation on campus during strike days

  • Unionised bus drivers for Brighton and Hove Buses have in the past refused to drive onto campus because they will not cross a picket line while a strike is on. This is a gesture of solidarity with striking workers in UCU. This may happen again this year.
  • UCU and USSU have asked the University to arrange an accessible minibus to pick up students with access needs from the point where the bus stops to then go onto campus. We will provide more information once we have it.

‘Neutral Zones’ and the Library

  • Falmer House, Mandela Hall and Meeting House can all be used as neutral spaces public buildings on campus where you can be while still supporting the strike.
  • Additionally, in recognition that disabled students may need to access specialist equipment in the Library that is unavailable to them elsewhere, the two bookable specialist equipment rooms in the Library will be considered ‘neutral zones’.

Accessible teach-outs

  • Sussex Strike Teach-outs will include events related to disability and activism. The teach-out programme recognises Sussex Disability History Month as well as International Day of Disabled Persons (Tuesday 3 December).
  • There will be a meeting about the strike and accessibility, hosted by USSU and UCU at 12-2pm Wednesday 26th November in the Fishbowl (First Floor of Falmer House, opposite the Debating Chamber). Disabled students,and staff, their support workers and allies are warmly invited to attend.

9. Should I attend lectures and seminars?

As workers on strike we invite our students to express their solidarity by not attending lectures and seminars that might be running. Why would we do this if we care about our students' education? Because the strike is only as powerful as those who participate in it! If we can send a collective signal to our employers that students and workers are joined in the struggle to make our university more equitable and less exploitative, this is good for all of us. 

Unfortunately some staff members may not go on strike and may run their seminars or lectures as usual.  In this case, we understand that you may need to attend these classes so that you are not marked absent.  We would love it if you would boycott classes in solidarity with the strike, but we understand that is a difficult choice to make. 

10. What happens if I live on campus, or need to access campus to work or meet with friends?

  • Picket lines will not physically stop anyone from entering campus. Instead picketers will be talking to people and arguing that they shouldn’t enter the educational spaces on campus. 
  • We understand that many students live and use services (medical, religious and so on) on campus and will have to cross the picket line in order to go home - nobody will be stopped from doing this.  We ask that you support the strike by not accessing the spaces where educational work takes place on campus: classrooms, lecture theatres, offices of staff members, or the Library (apart from the ‘neutral rooms’ described above in the accessibility section).  

11. How can I support university workers who are striking?

  • You can support striking workers in any number of ways highlighted here including: not crossing the picket to attend class or using parts of the campus that are not ‘neutral’. (It is important to note that if you should wish to cross the picket line, you are allowed to do so). 
  • Join staff on the picket line for conversations about the strike and education!
  • Attend the ‘teach outs’, info below.
  • We also invite you to write to our VC, Adam Tickell (vc@sussex.ac.uk) in support of striking workers and ask the university to take our concerns seriously in order to end the strike. 

12. Will there be any events I can attend during the strike on campus?

Yes! Please come to them!

  • There will be a series of UCU-organised ‘teach outs’ or events (related to the strike and other aspects of university and political life) organised by staff and students taking place in the neutral spaces on campus. This is a fantastic opportunity for students to deepen their political education - keep your eyes open for a schedule of events, come along and get stuck in!  [link to viewable online schedule to follow]
  • There are also student-organised events on campus during the strike including a demonstration on Monday 25th November 2019 from 12.00 - 15.00.

Details on Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/events/2971718949720607/?notif_t=plan_user_joined&notif_id=1573028214669834
 

13. Solidarity Statement for Disabled Students and Staff

We, members of the University and College Union (UCU) and Sussex Student’s Union (USSU), write in solidarity with disabled students and staff. We recognise that should strike action go ahead, disabled students and staff may be disproportionately affected in relation to professional services, student supporters and any additional educational support. UCU and USSU are working together to ensure that any industrial action over the coming weeks supports the needs of disabled people on campus and works against cultures of ableism in Higher Education.

From support workers who are on precarious zero-hour contracts to stretched professional services, disabled individuals are already supported on shaky grounds. Too often must these individuals write extra e-mails, make extra phone calls, and take extra hours of liaising and additional organising just to ensure their needs are met. Too often are some individuals unable to access buildings, their learning, or support due to able-centred architecture. All of these factors cause disproportionate levels of anxiety and stress, which is detrimental to mental health. Additionally, disabled staff already face low and unequal pay, precarity and casualisation. Their treatment within Higher Education points towards the treatment of disabled students in Higher Education

UCU is taking strike action, then, to address not only unequal pay (including the disability pay gap) but also the casualisation and excessive workloads that disproportionately affect disabled staff and students at the University of Sussex.

A call for solidarity must read not only in words, but in action – we will do our best to make the industrial action accessible and meaningful for disabled staff and students. Together, UCU and USSU provide information about commitments made to accessibility during the strike.

 

Sussex Students' Union

Sussex UCU

November 2019