The strike action of academic staff over changes to their pension has dominated conversation among the student body here at UCL over the last few weeks. Some whispered excitedly at the prospect of classes being cancelled. Others looked apprehensive about the issues facing their professors and vowed to join the student demonstrations.
Only one out of five of my classes has been cancelled at the moment and lecturers appear to be quite conflicted about doing this. Some of the professors who are protesting apologised to us for the cancellation of their classes, while the teaching fellows who have no pension to speak of in the first place are conflicted as to whether to stand in solidarity with the other staff.
As a clueless exchange student, I believe that my place in this strike is to stay quiet. On the first day of the strike, I had one class to attend. I didn’t really believe that the strike would happen so when I arrived at the lecture venue, I was surprised to see a mass of people at the entrance. It was the picket line, a new phrase that I’ve learned over the past week.
Read more from Reona’s journey
People were handing out brochures about the strike and urging us not to enter the building. Feigning calmness, I sneaked through the door, upset by the cries of opposition ringing behind me. It felt awful but my excuse was that I had an important presentation to do in that class. By the time the class has ended, the the picket line had grown, and they applauded us for “leaving the building” when I walked out.
It was surreal. Although my home university, The University of Tokyo, was the scene of the often violent student demonstrations back in the late 1960s, which involved 8,500 police officers against a student-led barricade, we have not had strikes or protests in recent years. This could be attributed to a lack of solidarity in the workplace, and the prevalent notion of the “customer as god”, which promotes the idea that workers should not inconvenience customers.
The distress of the professors who are willing to teach and the students who are upset about missing out on teaching time leaves a bitter taste.
I wish everyone all the best, and as an outsider, I shall continue to quietly observe this dynamic movement.
Reona Matsumoto is a Japanese exchange student studying at UCL for a year. She will be blogging her experience for THE Student.