The town’s students were out in force today to express their support for academic staff on strike for better pay and conditions.
Protestors assembled a picket line outside the Examination Schools, as well as staging a sit in inside the building itself, in order to express support for members of unions UCU, Unison and Unite on strike today.
Academic staff were on strike over their suggested pay rise this year of 1%, which, with inflation at 3%, would effectively mean a pay cut.
Around 100 people attended the protest, including students from Ruskin College, and OUSU President Tom Rutland.
Protestors held placards and shouted chants at passers by, including, “No ifs, no buts no education cuts”, and, “No fee hike, we support the strike”.
At an OUSU meeting last night, council had passed a motion to support to the strike, with 45 votes in support of the motion, 5 voting against the motion, and a further 15 abstentions.
An amendment to the motion mandated Rutland to email all students, encouraging them to attend the protest and abandon lecture halls.
Those in favour of the motion spoke of the need to incentivise highly skilled academics to stay in the field, and the important role academia plays in wider society.
Sarah Pine, OUSU Women’s Officer, cited the gender pay gap as a reason to support the strike, which, at 22% in academic fields, is higher than in the economy as a whole.
However, some questioned the wisdom of showing support for the strike. Jack Matthews, of University College, said that UCU had been inconsistent in showing solidarity when the student body needed support.
Nathan Akehurst, who proposed the motion, said at the protest, “Staff have put up with the longest sustained paycuts since World War Two. They have lost 13% of their salary in the last five years, so are expected to take an average pay cut of 900 pounds per member of staff despite the fact that the university is 53 million pounds in the black – it can easily afford not to cut.
“So I’m here to stand up for my staff and students as well because underpaid, overworked staff don’t make good tutors.”
Anya Metzer, Wadham JCR President, said she was pleased with the turn out, commenting, “I think given how intense Oxford is, people don’t always have time for the things they want to do outside of academic commitments, a lot of people have turned up to show their support.”
However, some students have been less sympathetic to those on strike.
Gabriel Asman, a Somerville JCR member, commented, “I might (grudgingly) accept losing lectures because of a lecturer, who makes more then my parents combined , going on strike (because I understand that people have this right), but to go on “strike” myself DESPITE the lecturer not doing so is just a new level of crazy.”
Anu Oyefesobi, another Somerville student, shared this view, saying, “To be frank, I don’t think you can have it all; you can’t condemn the Vice Chancellor’s statement about higher uni fees and then also say that lecturers should be paid more. Someone has to take a loss.”
Picture credit: Ethan Freedman