The UCU strike for USS has been a roller coaster and I don’t really know what it means yet, being a historian and all. But the strike over pensions and the marketization of universities has changed how I understand our structures and possibilities and how I feel about work, and how I feel about feeling things about work. (But I will leave the truly brilliant Claire Langhamer to take that one on) Its also changed the way academics in different institutions relate to each other, and filled our lives with Twitter.
I’ve never had an overly easy relationship with Universities, or really with education, but over the last few weeks I’ve never felt so completely at home in academia, or wanted to leave academia so much.
I was ‘invited’ to leave school at 15 and allowed to return to sit some O levels, I got 4, not including History. My first attempt at A levels at 17 was interrupted by the birth of my first daughter. As a single parent I lived in families of choice whilst I studied. As an undergraduate I had a team of incredible women who had each others backs. With my incredible friend Vicky, we campaigned about the representation of student motherhood in contraceptive education and over the councils refusal to pay our children’s housing benefit contribution over 52 weeks of the year ( it seemed pretty obvious to us that our babies weren’t actually students).
All my post graduate studies were part-time and unfunded. Structurally it was pretty clear that I wasn’t meant to be there, and certainly that I wasn’t worth investing money in. But on a personal level I was surrounded by lecturers and supervisors who invested in me. I was taught about the value of personal and political investment. And I guess that’s a trajectory I’ve followed ever since. That came to a clashing contradictory conclusion during the strike. I’ve never loved my colleagues more (and I loved them a lot already), I’ve never felt the possibility of taking back the agenda so closely, and I’ve never wanted to jack the whole thing in so much.
We did pickets
We did culture
But some of them broke our hearts a little bit,
We did and got Solidarity
Daisy Brought Us Chips
Some of us had been here before
There were fund raisers for the strike fund
The Assistants were there
There was a shit storm
There were some genius moves
With thanks to the UCU Sussex organisers and Poets on the Picket Line