Written by: Dr Jake Blanc.
A letter to my students:
I do not want to be on strike. None of your lecturers do. We would rather be inside our classrooms giving a lecture, or in a seminar room discussing a reading, or holding office hours to talk through an essay assignment. And given that the outside temperatures have been hovering in the low single digits, coming out to the picket line every morning is far from an easy or cheerful decision.
But we cannot come back in, at least not yet. And please believe me here when I give the reason for why we have to stay outside a little longer. We are on strike for you, our students.
You probably hear that a lot around universities these days. Touch-screen panels in every classroom: for the students! A new survey every week: for the students! Two-for-one Dominos pizza: for the students!
But when I say that me and my colleagues are on strike for you—for the students—it reflects something much more important. Choosing to leave our classrooms, to forego our salary, and to hold up signs on a frozen sidewalk in your name, that is a deeply sincere statement.
Nobody goes into academia for fame or fortune. Unless you study celebrity culture or business history, you are unlikely to experience either or those two words in your daily academic life. Instead, the overwhelming majority of our time is spent thinking about, planning, and delivering pedagogy and mentorship to our students. And I would say that for almost every academic I know, that is precisely why we love our jobs.
But over the past many years (and decades!) universities have changed in ways that make it increasingly difficult, if not outright impossible, for us to give you the education you deserve. You likely have heard that our current strike has four core demands, relating to issues of casualisation, fair pay, equity, and pensions. Like any job that aims to be both part and a model of an inclusive society, ours relies on the foundation of steady employment, adequate compensation, equality amongst all employees, and the security of a dignified livelihood once we stop working. And each of the four relate to vital threads of what allows us to have the personal, financial, and mental wellbeing to come to work every day to help create the type of learning environment in which all members of a university community can thrive.
I won’t go into detail here on the four demands. That information is available elsewhere and, moreover, as a relative newcomer to the UK, I do not want to presume the cultural and institutional knowledge to properly talk through each item. (Though let’s not kid ourselves, our struggle here in Britain is part of the same struggle I would have faced if I had stayed in the U.S. or gone to teach anywhere else in the world).
Instead, I want to reiterate that I see you, that we see you. All of us, your lecturers, your tutors, your supervisors, your support staff, everyone. We all see you. We know that our decision to strike makes you stressed and worried. We know that our choice to keep you from your usual class routine makes you nervous about essays and exams. I’m sure it might even feel like we’re doing this in spite of you—or even worse, against you. Nothing could be further from the truth.
We’re doing this because we are frustrated, and tired, and overworked, and to be honest, pissed off. We are angry that the university has let our conditions, and our workloads, and our hiring practices degrade to such a point that we have to abandon our classrooms just to have our demands be taken seriously. A strike is not a strategy to be used lightly, it is a last-resort, break-glass-in-case-of-emergency type of option. And we are currently in that sort of moment.
Personally, I am three years into what I can hope will be a long career. I’d love nothing more than to devote my professional life to working with several generations of students, where my history courses can serve as a platform for students to make sense of the past, to learn to think critically, to write well, and to engage one another with empathy. If I’m lucky enough, many of you might even follow suit and become my colleagues one day, and then you’ll get to share in the joys of what, when supported properly, is the best job in the world.
But those hopes are contingent on something changing. And for us, that something can only come about by going on strike. We’ve exhausted all other options. Believe me, we don’t want to strike. But we care too much about doing our job well, and we care too much about you and your future, to not see this through.
So thank you for your support. And if not your support, then hopefully at least your trust that when we say we’re doing this for our students, we mean it.
Dr Jake Blanc
Lecturer in Latin American History