From 25th Nov – 4th Dec, lecturers in 60 UK universities went on strike with UCU. We hit the picket lines of Cambridge to find out why they were swapping their blackboards for banners.

At the end of last year, the University and College Union (UCU) organised a strike action at 16 universities across the UK, including in Cambridge. During this time, staff members refused to do university-related work. This was followed by an ‘action short of strike’, meaning that they were working strictly to contact and not rescheduling missed lectures or teaching. By intentionally disrupting teaching, striking staff raised awareness to some of their most pressing concerns, including the gender and ethnicity pay gap that continues to exist in universities like Cambridge. 

For this episode of Declarations, our producers Jing and Matt set out to Cambridge’s picket line – a symbolic line formed by bodies around university buildings. Here, they talked to staff and students about the motivations, causes and possible consequences of the strike. Being aware of the mixed feelings that students and the media had towards the strike, the Declarations team wanted to give insight to the myriad reasons that moved academics to take such drastic action.  The recordings paint a vivid picture of the solidarity that brought staff and their students together, showing that the decision to strike was not taken lightly. 

“For me the strike is about closing the gender pay gap, closing the race pay gap, ending casualisation, fighting for a dignified retirement, reducing mental health issues.” 

 – A striking lecturer 

Each strike day was organised around a theme, many of which broadly corresponded with human rights’ issues covered on Declarations. We talked to staff about one of these: issues of racism and migration. Those students and academics lucky enough to be able to enter and leave the UK freely aren’t aware of the difficulties created by ‘hostile environments’, a term that refers to policies set in place by the UK home office to stop immigration. In conversation with foreign staff, we find out how they are affected by these rules, and how this can adversely affect our education. For more information, listen to this seasons’ third episode on the Politics of Exhaustion. 

“All I want to do is get back to work. I love my job and I love my students.” 

– A striking lecturer 

The episode helps to see the strike action as a single occasion that is part of a much larger picture. The University of Cambridge is becoming increasingly intertwined with global capitalism, technological frameworks and national immigration systems – as are many centres of education. One of our panellists, Matt, is engaged in fighting the institutional support that Cambridge receives from technological companies, which enable increased surveillance of university environments. 

“We cannot in good conscience claim to solve some of the worlds’ most pressing problems as a leading university while enabling the marginalisation of people who fled and are fleeing conflict, persecution, hunger. Our student body includes refugees and migrations from across the world. In standing in opposition to Palantir, we stand in solidarity with them.” 

Matt, panellist 

Links for further information