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Open letter to Postgrads & Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs)

Strikes are exceptional times. The local UCU understands that you may have many questions that require clarification. This open letter provides explanations to a number of questions that some of you have asked us, ahead of the strike. They are structured in the form of Questions and Answers.

(1) What is the strike about? Should I care?

(2) Can I strike?

(3) Can the University/Department force me NOT to strike?

(4) What happens in these ‘picket lines’?

(5) I will lose money if I go on strike. Can I get some support?

(6) I am on a zero-hour contract. How can I claim lost income if I strike?

(7) I have sympathy with the strike but I am quite nervous. I have not been on a strike before. Can I be arrested? Would something bad happen to me?

(8) I care for the students. Isn’t the strike going to negatively affect their studies?

(9) What else can I do to help?

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(1)  What is the strike about? Should I care?

* On February 22nd staff at 61 universities across the country will be going on strike. Our Union, the UCU, has called for 14 days of action across four weeks. During this time, staff will not be teaching, answering e-mails, giving office hours, or marking.

* We did not want to go on strike, losing money and disrupting the students’ programme of studies. We were forced to because our employers – Universities UK management – many of whom receive massive salaries and have secured huge pensions – broke their promise about our pension, as agreed in our contracts. They want to change the way our future pensions are calculated and, effectively, destroy our pensions’ scheme (called USS). Some staff will lose as much as 50% of their pensions, an unprecedented loss in the history of USS, but management refuses to budge or bargain.

*  We are resorting to going on strike because it is the only way we can persuade Vice Chancellors to negotiate.

*  This strike is about defending your future pension.

* You may find the video below from the Warwick Student-Staff Solidarity group illuminating:

https://youtube.com/watch?v=RPjLEk8-buE

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(2)  Can I strike?

YES – you are our colleague and co-worker. If you aspire to become an academic in the UK, your future pension will be directly affected by these horrible changes. If you are not already a member of the UCU, you can join easily by following the link below. Joining the UCU is FREE for GTAs, doctoral students and recent doctoral graduates. To join click below:

www.ucu.org.uk/free

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(3)  Can the University/Department force me NOT to strike?

GTAs who are UCU members are protected by the Union in case they will be put under pressure if they decide to go on strike.

It is unlawful to be put under pressure or bullied NOT to strike, especially if you are a member of the Union. If you are put under any pressure to break the strike, contact ucu-sec@bath.ac.uk

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(4)  What happens in these ‘picket lines’?

Your colleagues and other striking academics, members of the UCU, will be standing in the so-called picket lines in the 3 entrances to the University during the days of the strike. They will be there to ask members of the University to support the strike and to encourage them NOT to cross the picket line.

Crossing the picket line undermines the collective effort to defend our pensions, including your future pension.

All who participate in picket lines get clear instructions about what constitutes appropriate action in a picket line. In general, there is a positive atmosphere in a picket line.

We will be there to inform, to encourage, to seek support; not to confront.

There is nothing unlawful about picket lines. They are a form of free speech which is protected when you are on strike.. The police cannot arrest anyone just for being on a picket line.

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(5)  Will I lose money if I go on strike? Can I get some support?

All those who strike will lose money. Some of us will lose very substantial amounts.  GTAs who are members of UCU can apply to recover their lost income for the hours planned, by showing evidence of the lost pay. They can access the so-called  Hardship Fund. Thus, it is to your benefit to be a member of the Union and it is FREE. See the link above about becoming a member.

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(6)  I am on zero hours contract. How can I claim lost income if I strike?

Your engagement as GTA involves turning up in seminars/workshops in particular days and hours. If you strike you can make a claim to the UCU hardship fund to recover the pay you would have otherwise earned. But you can only do this if you are a UCU member. You will need to provide details of these units/days/times.

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(7)  I have sympathy with the issues but I am quite nervous. I have not been on a strike before. Can I be arrested? Would something bad happen to me?

Strike action is LAWFUL in this country. In all striking Universities UCU members were lawfully balloted. We voted overwhelmingly (in some University support for the strike was up to 80%) to strike as the only action left to defend the pension levels we were promised (and the employers agreed to) in our contracts. This strike action is as legal as it gets.

UCU is a legal organization with numerous lawyers and law experts on their side, representing thousands of academics. UCU is recognized by the employers as the collective voice representing ALL academics in pay negotiations, even those who are not in the union.

No-one can be arrested for taking part in a lawful strike action in the UK. No-one.

Finally, there is always a feeling of anxiety when one joins other human beings to take collective action. This is normal. But this feeling disappears quickly when one joins their colleagues in the strike. Usually, it is feelings of empowerment and solidarity that rise to take the place of anxiety. Joining your colleagues and friends in a fight for a just cause is an incredible experience!

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(8)  I care for the students. Isn’t the strike going to negatively affect their studies?

The purpose of a strike is to create an impact that will make the employers feel uncomfortable enough to move their negotiating position. Our purpose is not to harm students, many of whom support us. It is to defend our pensions – and the sector.

Departments and the University will take into account the impact of the strike on the students’ performance and studies – this is called taking into account ‘structural mitigation’. Students can register their feelings by complaining to the University management, and UCU encourages them to do so. They can ask the University management what action are taking to end the strike and demand that they should go back to the negotiating table to find an acceptable solution.

Local UCU also support the petition urging “the Pro-Vice Chancellor for Learning and Teaching to commit to ensuring that all money saved on the wages of striking staff goes into the University of Bath Hardship Fund and towards improving mental health support for staff and students”. You can sign the petition here:

http://bath.web.ucu.org.uk/2018/02/18/petition-strike-hardship-mental-health/

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(9) What else can I do to help?

The most direct help you can give is to join the UCU action. That means taking strike action on the 22nd, 23rd, 26th, 27th, 28th February, and 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, and 12th to 16th March; which makes 14 days in total. Once industrial action has started it also means “work to contract”, meaning work no more than contracted hours, and volunteer for nothing – in particular do not cover for absent colleagues.

If you are not in the UCU, then you can join at any time. You are able to take action with UCU without joining, but UCU is able to offer both legal protection and a hardship fund. Otherwise:  not cross a picket line; not cover for striking colleagues; and most especially bear in mind that colleagues who are taking action are losing pay, and defending your pension too – so, do nothing to undermine the action of colleagues.

As said above you can also support the petition supported by local UCU urging “the Pro-Vice Chancellor for Learning and Teaching to commit to ensuring that all money saved on the wages of striking staff goes into the University of Bath Hardship Fund and towards improving mental health support for staff and students”. You can sign the petition here:

http://bath.web.ucu.org.uk/2018/02/18/petition-strike-hardship-mental-health/

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