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  • Daniel Sillet

Striking Scrooges want to ruin your Christmas (and your life)


Have you ever been stuck in a traffic jam on the M25? It’s very irritating – and often extremely time-consuming. And, usually, it’s because the country’s whole fleet of policemen and traffic officers have halted all vehicles while they clean a speck of dust off the road.

Talking of infuriating things, have you ever had to walk 500 miles to get home from university because train drivers are on strike? And was the reason you were travelling home mid-term-time in the first place because your university lecturers are striking, so there was no point in staying at university anyway? And did you break your back carrying your life’s possessions because Royal Mail workers were striking too, so you couldn’t at least post your belongings home?

This is the essence of strike action. It’s nothing short of inconvenient. The whole idea of a strike is to bargain with your employer, usually for more money. But we are in a cost of living crisis, so nobody – including dishy Rishi – can afford to increase wages. This means strikes are not only annoying, but also ultimately pointless.

The return to 1984, and Thatcher, and the miners, and the UK’s summer of strikes on the railways has all been documented to death. However, something more novel and much closer to home is university strikes.

This is very interesting, seeing as UK students pay £9,250 per year for tuition fees at UK universities – with international students often paying even more. I therefore struggle to see why universities cannot pay their staff a fairer wage, which would cancel the need for a strike.

A strike, from a student’s perspective, only deepens the asymmetrical hierarchy in higher education, with students at the very bottom of the pile.

First of all, students are monetarily exploited. The government-induced ‘maximum’ yearly tuition fee is £9,250. That means universities could charge less if they wanted – but they don’t. Consequently, when you graduate, you will need to post your debt home because it will be too large to carry. Except you might struggle with that, seeing as Royal Mail will probably be on strike again.

Secondly, unless someone is employing a dodgy accountant, I don’t think six contact hours per week can possibly amount to paying £9,250+ per year. Especially when most of us are part of the Covid-19 university generation; so, all of our money so far has been going towards a couple of YouTube videos. Which, on YouTube, would be free.

I’m sure students would quite happily strike if they could, but they can’t. This is because students are paying for the service. So striking would be like Just Stop Oil protestors buying the milk that they subsequently spill on the floor – rather brainless. What’s more, the universities would swat any action away like a pesky fly and say ‘well, it’s your education – throw it away if you like’.

This represents an uneven power dynamic that makes students vulnerable – in fact, helpless. In any other private market, this would be shut down by the Competition and Markets Authority for being an exploitative monopoly.

It is completely out of students’ control. That’s why it hurts even more when lecturers strike, taking away our overpriced education altogether.

Why can’t the universities just pay tutors a fair wage with defined contracts, for the welfare of all participants in the entire sector?

Having said all that, strike action elsewhere cannot possibly add up to poor wages. That’s because the Civil Service is planning a strike in December, where 100,000 civil servants could walk out for up to an entire month.

I admit that not all civil servants are well-paid. But a heck of a lot are. And you can bet your bottom dollar that the well-paid will be hitting the picket lines as well. This is before I even mention the Civil Service final salary pensions – in other words, the gold dust. Final salary pensions are precious because the final amount doesn’t depend on volatile markets like most modern pensions do. This makes a civil servant’s retirement more secure than a cell in Alcatraz.

So, I must ask, what are they complaining about?

If anything, the workers going on strike should be those stuck in the traps of the gig-economy, ferrying people around in Ubers or delivering for Amazon. Or, in fact, NHS workers, who saved the nation from Covid and were denied a promised pay rise. These are the workers who have it rough enough to strike.

Undeserving strikers: please stop. Or watch our country go to the dogs.

Image: Flickr/ Steven Eason

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