Lines in the campus sand: lecturers across picket lines

Posted on March 24, 2011


In Edition Zero of The Paper, Morten Paul asked ‘what do academics do, when they go on strike?’. The answer offered by one of his professors was that ‘they use the time to work on their research’. The answer offered by other academics, it seems, is that they cross picket lines, strike break and carry on regardless.


The Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) undertook strike days in England, Wales and Scotland between 17 – 24 March against attacks on pensions and higher education more generally. Yet some colleagues crossed picket lines and taught planned lectures and seminars.

These colleagues regard themselves as ‘critical’ theorists, they lecture on the damage wrought by neo-liberalism and have made careers on the back of their ‘radical’ positionalities. They are paid up members of the union. They have no strategic problem with the strikes. The (ridiculously poor) reasons they offer for strike breaking is that they feel ‘obliged’ to students, that they didn’t want to ‘let them down’. They are unable to bridge their theory with practice, in the simplest of ways.

These emotional and affective responses, as cowardly as they are, reflect a bigger process occurring in higher education: the marketisation, commodification and instrumentalisation of knowledge, degrees and the university, in which students become little more than consumers, apparently enraged when they can’t access thethingtheypaidfor.

Yet conversing with students in class, little information had been communicated to them about the strikes. Placed in the context of the broader attacks on higher education and public services and within the module under study, they were not angry with lecturers. They understand the assault we are all facing. Most of them simply asked the best way that they could support lecturers.

Traditional strikes may not be the most effective form of protest in the current moment. We indeed need to re-imagine our strategies to organise when our workplaces no longer resemble those around which industrial unionism was based. This doesn’t mean smashing solidarity, scabbing and crossing picket lines. It means working together, with colleagues and students to imagine alternatives and engaging creatively, in solidarity, with all of those working and learning, within the walls of the university and beyond.


Posted in: 3. Ed One