Two years ago, hungover and aching from a "mad Wednesday" night out, I slept through my first experience of strike action. This year, in my final year, I have a four-hours-a-week timetable, and yesterday there was a strike. You might have heard about it.
A combined effort of activities outside my control and yesterday’s strike meant that I received zero hours of teaching this week. Next week is reading week, which I will spend by the fire with my cat. What a lovely fortnight off. Less lovely, imaginably, was the picket line at East Gate, Mile End Road, where my Thursday morning tutor had pitched up.
Earlier in the week, a straw poll revealed that the majority of my peers were unaware of the strike’s appearance.
More interesting than the traditional whinge that valuable study time has been lost – ergo, some money too – is the position of contemporary British strike culture. The 1996 Police Act bans officers from striking at any time. Several ballots have been offered to reform this in the last decade, none of which have followed through, thankfully. But many professions lack a union – strike action is one of the fundamentals of unfair dismissal: employees can't be legally sacked for striking.
That education allows its employees to strike, should they be part of a union and follow the rules, might be liberating in times in strife. It provides a "get out", a way of expressing distress. This time, it concerns just one day of lectures – it isn’t the end of times. Yesterday was, undoubtedly, viewed by too many students as a lucky lie in. It happened to be a Thursday, the morning after Wednesday sport night – our monthly sports "mad one".
But the striking question runs deeper than an authorised class absence. Ultimately, students are affected and still nothing will change. Teaching staff will not, it is almost certain, be given the financial support they demand. Standing on either side of the picket line will not guarantee financial reward. The Government will not consider their actions; the students will, and some will be rightly frustrated. My peers have asked, and will keep asking, what’s the point of it all. Those who do not have the time made up will feel cheated, for striking achieves nothing.
We accept that conditions are unfair, that staff in all sectors should be better rewarded. That hell, the cleaning staff should be better funded, especially those tasked with washing down the student union bar after a Wednesday night out. But we also know that things will not alter as a result of a strike day.
Through all of this, the silent majority linger in my mind. Those in professions who cannot strike will fail to receive a pay rise. They too live in cold houses, donning three jumpers because it isn’t appropriate to have the heating on. Those in higher education are not alone in their strife, they are simply able to physically protest.